The following post contains SPOILERS for Malignant. Do not read further until you’ve seen the movie or you’ve made peace with the fact that this article will discuss one of the most insane twists in horror history.

For a movie from one of the biggest names in horror, Malignant has arrived in theaters with very little fanfare. This is the newest scary movie from James Wan, the guy who made SawInsidious, and The Conjuring, three of the biggest horror franchises of the century. And yet Malignant feels like an afterthought. There were barely any early screenings or reviews, and the trailers painted it as a typical thriller about a woman, played by Annabelle Wallis, who begins suffering from terrifying visions.

These visions involve gruesome murders perpetrated by a mysterious figure named Gabriel. To Wallis’ Madison, they first seem like nightmares. But then she realizes the dreams are real; somehow, she is witnessing a serial killer’s crimes. And she suspects that Gabriel, who possesses unnaturally lanky physicality and long, greasy hair that always hangs in front of his face, is somehow connected to her own past.

Once you watch the film, which is now in theaters and available on HBO Max, it becomes clear why the trailers were so generic: They were hiding a massive — and massively deranged — twist. It upends the film’s final act and turns Malignant from a standard-issue slasher into something much more outlandish and much more fun. If Malignant is remembered in the future, it will be for this twist ending, which is surely amongst the more pleasurably unhinged of the last few decades.

Actually there are several layers of twists. Madison, for example, is not who she thinks she is. Her real name is Emily, and her family adopted her when she was young. Even Madison’s sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) doesn’t know the truth, which is only uncovered little by little as Gabriel’s killing spree continues. His first victim is Madison’s abusive husband; Gabriel kills him just a few hours after he slammed Madison’s head against the wall. In short order, Gabriel kidnaps a Seattle tour guide and begins picking off the doctors who treated him as a child at a creepy research hospital.

Madison retrieves some old home movies from her adoptive mother, where she watches herself talking to an imaginary friend she calls Gabriel. She goes to the police and tries to convince them that her visions are real, but they come to suspect she is the killer when the missing tour guide turns up in Madison’s house, where Gabriel had left her tied in the attic. Then it turns out the tour guide is also Madison’s biological mother. (Click this link to properly set the mood for the lunacy that’s about to follow.)

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Attentive viewers will probably suspect that Madison is somehow responsible for these killings; that perhaps Gabriel is a suppressed alternate personality akin to Norman Bates’ mother from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In fact, the actual explanation for his crimes is much weirder. Gabriel wasn’t an imaginary friend or an alternate personality, he was Madison’s parasitic twin.

While parasitic twins are an actual medical phenomenon, there’s a bit of, let’s say, artistic license taken with them in Malignant. In this case, Gabriel lived as a head and a pair of claw-like arms that protruded from the back of the young Madison’s head, who was given up for adoption by her teenage mother. Because Gabriel and Madison shared a body, he had access to Madison’s brain — hence he is able to give her visions and hallucinations. He also has the ability to speak through electrical devices like radios and phones. (Again, this film might not be strictly accurate from a medical perspective.)

When Madison was a girl, the scientists at the hospital decided Gabriel was becoming too dangerous and powerful, but they couldn’t completely remove him because he was so entwined in Madison’s body. So they performed a gruesome/hilarious surgery where they removed most of Gabriel’s body parts and physically smooshed his face inside Madison’s skull. (Like, they literally appear to shove his little monster face inside her brain.) As Madison grew up and got adopted, she forgot all of this and moved on with her life. But when Madison’s husband slammed her head into the wall, he woke up Gabriel, who returned with a vengeance.

Warner Bros.

The revived Gabriel is somehow able to pop his little monster head out of the back of Madison’s skull and assume control of her body. (His hair is always in front of his face because his face is on the back of Madison’s head, covered by the back of her hair! His body moves so strangely and unnaturally because he is walking backwards all of the the time!) While Madison thinks she’s simply witnessing these crimes, her evil parasitic twin is committing them through her like an evil puppeteer.

I’m not sure I have the words to express the true oddness of Gabriel, who in the final act is revealed as a brain-like face poking out from a crack in the back of Madison’s skull, and who possess Jason Voorhees-like levels of strength, speed, and stamina while basically being a lady who kills people while running around backwards. It is bizarre(It is also, frankly, a little funny, to see this creature with Annabelle Wallis’ face on the back of its head savagely murdering people.)

You can compare Gabriel to a few other horror movies; Basket Case, Sisters, and The Brood all come to mind. But the way he and Madison are combined and deployed is truly like nothing else, as is the big climactic confrontation where Madison psychically fights back against Gabriel while telling him, with absolute sincerity “Did you forget? We share the same brain!”

I can promise you: I will never forget, as long as I live, that Madison and Gabriel share the same brain. I have a feeling most people who see Malignant will feel the same way. There’s no way this film, and that loopy final act, doesn’t go down in history as a classic of WTFery cinema.

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