MALUM (2023)

Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,

Malum Bluray

Coming to UK streaming and Blu-ray 27th May 2024

While horror movie remakes are a dime a dozen it’s more unusual for a film-maker to revisit their own work. It could be argued, somewhat unsuccessfully, that Evil Dead II is an example of this phenomenon. The budget is higher, the scope is wider, the violence is gorier, and certain scenes are recreated. At a first glance this appears to be fair comparison since Anthony DiBlasi’s Last Shift (as reviewed by HCF’s own Bat here) has this same basic premise as this new version. However, this time around the haunted police station hazmat crew have been swapped out for something less cohesive. It might be best described as Assault on Precinct 13 meets Hereditary, but I’m afraid that would be grossly overselling the whole thing. Instead this is mostly an example of why less is more when it comes to both demonic cults and problem parents.

The prologue offers a bit of a false start by offering flashbacks in both found footage and regular movie form. The followers of John Malum (Chaney Morrow) are up to no good in rural barn; setting up human and animal sacrifices for something they call ‘the Low God’. Luckily hero cop Will Loren (Eric Olson) is on the case and rescues three of the cult’s victims before things can progress further. Unfortunately not everything is at it seems, for the audience and the police, and things take a tragic turn before the narrative gets into full swing. It’s kind of spooky even if the camera recordings are obviously edited for effect, and the first few scenes includes some fairly shocking moments to set the tone. However, it’s not something the rest of the story can maintain.

It quickly moves forward twelve months to focus on Will’s daughter Jessica (Jessica Sula) and her alcoholic mother Diane (Candice Coke). It’s pretty soap opera-lite as the too squabble over Jessica’s new job; working as a cop at the same precinct as her dad. It seems a bit late for this argument since Jessica has already signed up and passed the application, and is in fact in uniform. The trouble seems to stem from the fact that she wants to dig up the past, which you might have thought would be possible without going through the trouble of joining the force. But since the precinct is being shuttered in twenty-four hours she’s almost out of time if this is her whole plan. Of course things quickly go awry as she faces both human and inhuman opposition.

There are a lot of odd things with this premise which ditches the internal logic of the previous iteration in favour of a family drama. But Jessica’s actions, and those of her colleagues, are also less than rational. After being belittled and threatened by a fairly unprofessional senior officer (Britt George) she’s left to please herself in the abandoned precinct. Although at times it looks more like a school or a hospital for some reason, likely budgetary, which could be overlooked if things made more sense. Without a desk clerk or any call handlers, who might have provided banter or characterisation, she’s soon firing her weapon inside the building and wandering around the place without turning on any lights. Jessica even makes an arrest when a man breaks into the basement… and then puts in him a holding cell that doesn’t have lights, instead of the drunk tank.

Again, the lack of Miranda warnings given to a burglar might be forgiven if things were more compelling elsewhere, but often Jessica comes across as a dummy so that a rudimentary haunting plot can play out. Clues are hidden in strange places and murder weapons are left lying around for anyone to find so the idea of a supernatural mystery can move forward. There’s a lot of droning music, and a series of drone shots, along with various quiet-quiet-bang moments in an attempt to make it all scary. But since the hobo, and later a prostitute, aren’t real characters there’s nothing else for Jessica to do beyond getting harassed by visions and loud noises. Eventually the whole evil cult idea starts to rear its head after a series of prank calls, but the difference between real and imagined threats is often so blurred that neither is effective.

After being warned about ‘black mould’ that causes hallucinations Jessica decides that wandering around the halls is still perfectly fine; as is leaving the man in the cells where it’s growing. But spooky laptops, haunted elevators, and bag-faced ghouls are all just random annoyances after a while when nothing seems to distinguish dreams from reality. Her questionable actions due to a lack of apparent police training are one thing, but when she doesn’t just leave after so many random scares and potential mental breaks it all kind of falls apart. Which is a shame when some of the monsters effects are genuinely great. There are a lot of staring eyes, broken teeth, and gooey mouths, even before a climax involving the Low God itself. But this is wasted when everything devolves into a badly edited shooting gallery in the third act.

The flashback dreams and sudden plot twists in this climax may be intriguing to some but it’s hard to imagine it being satisfying after so many false starts. Some of it’s creative and some of it’s atmospheric but the narrative glue holding the whole thing together is far too thin. Which is a shame because there’s a lot of potential beyond jump scares and creaky melodrama. With a more coherent script this could be an ideal descent into madness, or hell, for the less than sympathetic ensemble involved. The gnarly poster art promises something juicier and far more engaging. It’s easy to imagine this as a creature feature in which a scrappy group of cops, prisoners, and random farm animals, are faced with a nefarious plan to supply the Low God with his diabolic throne. But in this hotchpotch semi-remake state the results are far less than the sum of these parts.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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About Mocata 146 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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