What can you say about a horror movie that takes bits and pieces from roughly a thousand other well-known genre films, but does not stretch for any original ideas or scares if it does a competent job of putting together a straight-forward narrative of those borrowed ideas? It is not as though MALICIOUS is a terrible movie, but it is content to paint-by-the-numbers from its opening to its expected ending, which is a bit disheartening.
Adam (Josh Stewart) and Lisa (Bojana Novakovic) move from “the city” (I hate the lazy practice of characters referring to “the city” instead of a specific place) to a small town. Adam has accepted a job teaching math at a small university that has offered him an overly generous compensation package that includes a huge, beautiful house. Despite his misgivings about leaving “the city,” Adam is trying to make the best of his newfound financial security because Lisa is several months pregnant.
Sooner than you can say “Amityville,” things go very wrong. The couple is given a “fertility box” as a housewarming gift from Lisa’s sister Becky (Melissa Bolona). Soon after opening the box, Lisa suffers a miscarriage and is left unable to conceive children again. Distraught with only the emotionally distant Adam and the flaky, absolutely crazy-eyed Becky as her support system, Lisa begins to see first a baby and then a little girl haunting the house. Adam—ever the logical math professor—believes that the stress of the miscarriage is causing her to hallucinate, but Becky encourages Lisa’s newfound belief in the supernatural.
From that jumping off point, MALICIOUS follows a path that could charitably be called well worn (and not so charitably as clichéd). Will the head of the math department (Delroy Lindo) at Adam’s school (who just so happens to also teach a course in parapsychology) have some ideas about what is going on with Lisa? Will Adam be forced to cast aside his skepticism to try to save Lisa? Will there be a high-tech séance with a ton of recording equipment capturing a threatening ghost voice? Does the fertility box have something to do with all the supernatural shenanigans? If you answered “yes” to all of those questions, you get a gold star.
Writer/director Michael Winnick efficiently puts together all of the borrowed elements from THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, POLTERGEIST, a smidge of THE EXORCIST, and many other haunted house/demonic possession movies. But does competency in rehashing moldy genre elements without doing anything new with those ideas really count for anything when the film winds up feeling so tired? If you answered “no” to that question, you get another gold star.
With the notable exception of Bolona (whose wild-eyed, over-the-top, snotty attitude is the lone sign of life in the film), the cast is serviceable, but seem uninspired by the material. Stewart does a good enough job of trying to channel a low-key Sean Penn vibe, but he’s done no favors by the way Adam is written. Novakovic is a talent who has shown a strong screen presence in other films, but here she is wasted in a one-note role. Lindo literally gets to hide behind sunglasses for almost the entire film and manages to bring a bit of gravitas to his stock paranormal expert role.
Like the cast, it is not as though Winnick completely phones in his work on the film, but he doesn’t attempt to craft anything that rises above the clichés that make up every beat of the plot. Sometimes, saying a movie is competent can be seen as a compliment, but with MALICIOUS I have to say it’s a criticism. It is a crowded genre landscape out there. Any film that does not even try to stand out simply feels like a waste of time and talent.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)