In Glasgow, sister and brother Angela and Jackson (Florence Pugh and Ben Lloyd-Hughes) operate a ghostbusting scam alongside two acquaintances: delving into homes where “ghosts” have been sighted, conveniently talking the spirits into leaving, and then pocketing the cash. With Jackson in debt to the wrong people, the group of hustlers accept a high paying job at an infamous old foster home – the site of the death of three young girls – but whilst going about their scam, Angela actually starts seeing ghosts and it soon becomes clear that the group is in a great deal of danger.
Malevolent is a mixed bag of a film because the premise is pretty basic, bringing nothing overly original to the horror genre, and is has problems with its uncertain script and pacing; the film takes a far too generous amount of time to get into gear and long stretches in the first half tend to get quite boring. The problem with the script and story is that there are too many half baked ideas (including just what kind of trouble Jackson is in and all the business with the siblings’ mother) and as the film goes on, it seems as though the writers didn’t have a clear understanding of just what the point of it all was supposed to be and by the end, we’re left with a film that is simply about creepy girl ghosts in a haunted house, some shifty characters who get their comeuppance, a lot of wandering around the spooky house that’s captured on camera in a Blair Witch Project style, and some final antagonists whose motivations are too unclear and ultimately pretty forgettable.
But having said all of that, Malevolent isn’t a complete write-off as it’s not a terrible film and when it moves into the final act, the film reaches its highpoint because the finale is effectively creepy and unsettling and it admirably got my heart beating a little faster. There are a few spooky moments scattered throughout and the film never derails into complete tedium and, despite the generic nature of the majority of the film, that finale (effectively set to some creepy music on an old record player) manages to pull it back from the brink.
At the start of the film, the central characters run the risk of appearing as a bunch of brainless, unlikable Bling Ring style a$$holes, due to their conning business and the fact that they apparently enjoy taking advantage of distressed families but thankfully, they’re never insufferable (well, maybe Jackson since he’s the dominating and relentless one in the group) and the cast seem to be trying their hardest with the unstable material, no-one giving any bad performances but not setting the screen alight either. Florence Pugh (who was my main reason for watching this film in the first place) fares the best in the leading role of Angela, starting off as a willing scammer but she begins to show remorse as she starts to see things and considers aborting the mission; Angela is a supportable enough protagonist and Pugh gives it her best shot, even though she deserves a stronger project than this.
At its lowest points, Malevolent is a 2 1/2 star film due to its unimaginative nature, half baked story ideas and those stretches where nothing happens but it also delivers on the creepy, unsettling horror during its endgame, raising the feature to 3 1/2 star territory. So it’s only fair that it all evens out at 3.