In the new Netflix Original “Malevolent” siblings Angela (Florence Pugh) and Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) own and operate Sayers Medium Service. It’s basically a paranormal racket where they dupe grieving clients into believing they can communicate with their loved ones or in some cases drive out their ghosts. I bet you can already see where this is going.
The story is set in 1986 Glasgow. I’m not really sure about the significance of 1986 other than it conveniently rules out cellphones and it forces the twenty-something hucksters to use older (and potentially spookier) recording equipment when pulling off their ruse. Regardless, Angela is contacted by Mrs. Green (a very good Celia Imrie) who lives in a creepy old foster home she once ran. Mrs. Green claims ghosts of the little girls haunt the home and she desperately wants them silenced.
Angela turns down the job as she is growing more and more uncomfortable with their scam. After a little haggling over some old family baggage, Jackson calls Mrs. Green back and promptly accepts. Turns out he owes money to some pretty bad dudes and is in quick need of some cash. Along with their cameraman Elliot (Scott Chambers) and equipment operator Beth (Georgina Bevan) the siblings head to Mrs. Green’s remote and fittingly spooky place.
To no viewer’s surprise there is something freaky going on at Mrs. Green’s foster home. Icelandic director Olaf de Fleur leans on a handful of conventional horror tropes but wisely he never fully relies on them. Instead he toys with us about what we are seeing. Is it psychological or in fact ghostly? That question lingers until the macabre final act that feels slightly at odds tonally but admittedly fun and satisfying.
Another strength is Pugh’s performance. She is the film’s emotional center and asked to carry that load throughout the movie. She’s an impressive young actress as evident by her work in 2016’s highly acclaimed “Lady Macbeth”. Here the camera puts a lot of its focus on her. The material doesn’t allow for a particularly dynamic performance but she is still consistently good.
While “Malevolent” does a lot of things right I still wouldn’t call it a game-changer or even particularly fresh. But several smart decisions turns it into a surprisingly effective genre movie. And in a day when really bad horror movies are churned out by the dozens, “Malevolent” does stand out. So perhaps it’s a little bit fresher than I’m giving it credit for.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS