Movies

How Scary Is Malignant, the Buzzy, Bonkers New Horror Movie on HBO Max?

Is the latest from the director of Saw and Insidious terrifying, or just ridiculous?

a scaredy scale meter ticks over annabelle wallis' face
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO.

For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is frightened by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.

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The latest film to step on the scale is Malignant, the latest from James Wan, the director of Saw and Insidious, and it’s now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. The movie follows Maddie (Annabelle Wallis), who has begun experiencing visions of murders committed by a shadowy figure. As the film progresses, she realizes that these murders are actually happening in real life. How haunting are these murders? How horrifying is that shadowy figure? Read on to find out.

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A chart titled “Suspense: How much will you dread the next kill or jump scare?” shows that Malignant ranks a 4 in suspense, roughly the same as Jurassic Park. The scale ranges from The Joy of Painting (0) to Alien (10).
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO.
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Most of Malignant’s jump scares are loaded into the first part of the film, when the nature of the shadowy figure isn’t entirely clear. That figure materializes out of the darkness in an incredibly creepy and unsettling way, but as the plot unfolds, it spends less time in the shadows. The lessening sense of mystery also defuses some of the film’s suspense, making it become more of an action movie and less of a horror movie as it goes along.

A chart titled “Gore: the Ick Factor” shows that Malignant ranks an 8 in goriness, roughly the same as Alien, but two points below the Saw franchise. The scale ranges from Singin’ in the Rain to the Saw franchise.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO.
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Given that Wan is also one of the minds behind the Saw franchise, it probably comes as no surprise that Malignant does not skimp on the blood and guts. There are skulls cracked open and crushed, broken bones piercing skin, necks twisted, and more, so if you’re not keen on carnage, this may not be the movie for you. That said, you can usually tell when something gruesome is going to occur on screen, so you have the opportunity to look away if you’re committed to seeing Malignant through.

A chart titled “Spookiness: How much will it haunt you after the movie is over?” shows that Malignant ranks a 5 in spookiness, roughly the same as Psycho. The scale ranges from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (0) to The Exorcist (10).
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO.
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Again, for those sensitive to grisly images, you may have a little trouble shaking the film once the credits roll, as Wan doesn’t shy away from showing some pretty gross stuff. But otherwise, the big twist is silly enough that Malignant probably won’t cause you any nightmares. It’s a romp more than anything else, one that just happens to be pretty bloody.

A chart titled “Overall: This is even more subjective, depending on what kinds of scares get you the most” shows that Malignant ranks as a 5 overall, roughly the same as The Sixth Sense. The scale ranges from Paddington (0) to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (10).
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO.

Though Malignant maintains a creepy, grimy aesthetic throughout, the fun of it is less in being unsettled and more in figuring out what’s going on, and being along for the ride once you do. It’s certainly not fit to be baby’s first horror movie, but it also shouldn’t be too big of a challenge for those who suffer from a mild case of the scaredies. If you’ve been able to stomach such action thrillers as the Alien films, Malignant’s effects should be relatively benign.

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