Interview: Malignant Co-Writer/Director James Wan on Blending Genres, Giving Us a Villain We’ve Never Seen Before, and More

Malignant - Michael Burgess and James Wan

Malignant, the latest horror film from the master James Wan is finally here. Nerd Reactor had the opportunity to speak with Wan alongside a group of fellow journalists about Malignant. He discusses the journey of making the film, creating Gabriel, and how Malignant is connected with the movies from his career.

What was it like working with Marina Mazepa and the physicality she brought to the movie?

James Wan: Marina was an incredible find. We couldn’t believe it. I thought I had to shoot a lot of the movie in reverse and then playback in reverse. But what was amazing about Marina is just how quick of a study she is as a physical body performer/dancer. She was able to learn the choreography and did all of the fighting backward blindly. It was insane to watch how that was all choreographed. There was no trickery, we didn’t cheat in any way. She did that all backward. So it was a combination of what she did there, the prosthetic make-up that we applied, and the animatronic face of Gabriel. So putting it all together was quite the experience. I really wanted to create a villain that we haven’t quite seen before. It took quite a lot of work to get it to this level.

How much did the practical effects and animatronics change your style in terms of working a camera and things like that? Did it change it at all in terms of how you shot this with Michael Burgess or was it business as usual?

James Wan: It was a little bit of both. Like most practical effects, you kind of need to hide the puppeteer, right? Like literally, you need to hide the cables and stuff like that. The great thing about having modern visual effects at our disposal compared to what they had in the ‘80s is, I could paint people out. I can have people who could be really close by, have cables sticking out, and stuff like that. That doesn’t have to be in the final film.

It made the process much better in that respect, and I was fortunate enough to have ILM on the film as well. They could help me take the prosthetic effects to the next level. It was pretty cool to bring with me all the experiences that I’ve gained from making my bigger movies to this film that is really made with the spirit of a more down-and-dirty approach.

Malignant - James Wan
What were the most important influences to you when you were creating this story?

James Wan: Oh my goodness. I describe the movie not just as a genre-bender, but a genre-blender. It really is a blender of a whole bunch of stuff that has influenced me over my years growing up loving these kinds of movies — from science fiction to science fiction horror to psychological thrillers to monster movies. The blender happens to be my head. They’ll go in there, and this is what comes out of it.

Yet there’s no denying the fact that I have always been a big fan of Italian horror films, and yes, this movie has the aesthetic of a Giallo movie, of the likes of the Bavas and the Argentos of the world. Because of the nature of the movie, you’re naturally going to compare it to things that Cronenberg has done as well. I can’t pinpoint it to, let’s say, one inspiration. I would say it’s a combination of things.

Going back to the movie being a genre-blender, Malignant feels like an amalgamation of everything you’ve done from the start of your career to Aquaman. What was it about this film that made you want to put everything you’ve learned from your filmography together in this particular movie?

It’s really more than anything I’m playing with a lot of themes that have always fascinated me as far back as the start of my career. I’m not so much necessarily doing a tribute to myself, I just think that would be very weird. I do think there are certain themes that I keep coming back to. 

In the same way, if you watch a Guillermo del Toro movie. He has these themes that he keeps going back to that he loves. He has an aesthetic that he kind of goes with, and he applies them to different kinds of stories, right? It’s kind of in that same spirit that I want to do different things that touch on certain stuff that I’ve learned in the past. I feel like I have more things to say about them. 

Malignant is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1702 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.

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