Film Focus: Malignant and Cry Macho
September 29, 2021
Out of all the streaming platforms currently offering “new theatrical movies,” HBO Max seems to have the greatest variety of experiences. Nothing exemplifies this better than the current two films now showing: the wacky horror movie directed by James Wan, Malignant, and the quiet drama from Clint Eastwood, Cry Macho.
Malignant has attracted much attention over the past few weeks, as halfway through, it turns from a relatively typical modern horror movie to a bizarre send-up of 70s Italian “Giallo” films mixed with plenty of gore and high production values. This somewhat subversive mix has delighted both audiences and critics, who overlooked the more minor issues to enjoy the insanity. Unfortunately, to get to the last thirty minutes of mayhem, you need to sit through an hour and a half of a tedious horror movie that neither excites nor scares you.
After her abusive husband injures her head, a woman becomes haunted by hallucinations and visions of shockingly gruesome murders. Her insanity builds and builds until it boils over into an explosive – and incredibly violent – climax. Saying much more than this would spoil one of the only exciting plot points that the movie has, as the story is otherwise fairly rote. The characters don’t add much either, as while there are a few attempts to add some levity and personality, they fall flat. Early on, there are hints of a romance subplot, but it goes nowhere. There are perhaps four or five other side tangents that add nothing to the movie but to pad its already long run time.
At the very least, James Wan knows how to make a great visual spectacle. Sets bathe in garish red and yellow lighting while a dynamic camera swings all over the place. Each kill scene leaves an impact, with plenty of red viscera left in their wake. It’s certainly a satisfying watch from that perspective. Unfortunately, the rest of the production does not match the visual flair. Performances are bad and occasionally so uncanny you start to think it’s intentional.
Malignant is best to watch with friends so you can laugh at the silly scenes and be distracted when anything boring happens. However, if you want anything thought-provoking or original, you won’t find it here.
While Malignant is both over-the-top and dull simultaneously, Cry Macho will probably just be dull for most people. Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, Cry Macho focuses on an old rancher and rodeo performer tasked with getting his boss’s estranged son back from his mother in Mexico. Eastwood’s character soon finds the son but ends up stranded in the country with a hostile environment and hostile police force.
Most of what the film does right feels like a retread of the excellent Gran Torino, especially the dynamic between Eastwood and the troubled young boy. However, while Gran Torino had great writing that gave the film a sense of realness, Cry Macho lacks any such excellence. As a result, it feels very forced and unnatural. Clint certainly does his best with the material, with solid visual direction and a good performance, but he cannot hope to elevate it beyond just average.
While there are plenty of issues with the film, there’s lots to like as well. The quiet and introspective tone is refreshing amidst a sea of loud and annoying action movies. Cry Macho is not too unlike the recent Rambo: Last Blood, where a man past his prime is forced to track someone down in Mexico. While Rambo opted to culminate in mass violence, Cry Macho stays grounded and is more satisfying as a result. It’s confident enough to rest the frame on quiet scenes and capture images of the simple life.
Eastwood’s latest production is nowhere near as good as his prior work, but it’s serviceable. If nothing else, it’s an excellent excuse to watch a movie with your dad, who will probably enjoy it for what it is.
While Malignant and Cry Macho are not masterpieces, there is something to be said about being able to enjoy a theatrical release in the comfort of your own home. Hopefully, the newly released Sopranos theatrical film, The Many Saints of Newark, does more to impress.