Poffy The Cucumber

The ghosts ain’t the things to be afraid of…

MALEVOLENT has one heart-wrenching scene that puts it above most other ghost-hunter thrillers: a young woman who can see ghosts of the dead has just escaped from a torture chamber, where she was locked with her brother. As they escape, they are separated. As she stumbles down the road, away from her grisly ordeal, she sees her brother ahead of her, walking slowly away, seemingly unaware of his surroundings; he turns back and asks if she has seen his girlfriend – a girl they had both seen killed earlier. Dazedly, he asks again. Our first reaction is the same as hers – he is disoriented with the trauma of the torture and escape… but then she falls to her knees, weeping inconsolably… because… she can see the dead…

MALEVOLENT is a ghost-hunter story with a little twist: the brother-sister team of Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Angela (Florence Pugh) are fakes, selling Angela as an empath who can communicate with the spirit world, then creating voices on tapes and supernatural phenomena on video to fool their marks, and making off with easy loot from weeping old grateful ladies.

Then there’s another twist: during a standard “spirit-cleansing” con job with a weeping old grateful lady, Angela becomes truly psychic, seeing actual dead folk flit across her vision…

The mighty James Cosmo is Angela’s entertaining grandpa, who reveals that Angela’s mother committed suicide apparently due to “hearing voices.” So now, ironically, Angela’s inherited “gift” prompts her to stop conning old ladies, because she wants to avoid the horrifying visions that threaten to jumpscare her at every turn. But brother Jackson – in deep to the mob – convinces her onto another seemingly innocuous job, for an old lady named Mrs. Green (Judi Dench lookalike Celia Imrie), who hears the giggling of her long-dead schoolgirls haunting her vast estate. As she maintains throughout, she just wants a quiet house…

Angela quickly locates the schoolgirl ghosts in a flurry of sliding violins and apparitions in mirrors and dark doorways. It’s jolting, yes, and effective as a haunted house thriller, but the movie soon takes a different tack, because the ghosts… are trying to tell Angela what to really be scared of…

“Hello. Mr. Tiddles here told us you needed a jumpscare.”

Jackson (who saturates himself with self-affirmation tapes), is doing the snow job on Mrs. Green, who isn’t buying it. She may be an old Judi Dench lookalike, but she, in turn, is conning him and his team in a very different way. Jackson’s team is made up of sister Angela (classical beauty with a great arse), girlfriend Beth (Georgina Bevan) and Elliott (Scott Chambers), the latter two mere plot points as they get injured or killed to serve storyline.

Jackson comes off as a dick, as he seems to force his team forward through Angela’s warnings, or Elliott breaking his ankle falling through a floor, and Mrs. Green’s sinister cynicism. Yes, he is manipulating his sister to pay off debts, but his repeated avowals of love to her are poignant. The inclusion of grandpa Cosmo and sightings of their dead mother encouraging them (Nicola Grier) maintain the touching family dynamic.

Written by Eva Konstantopoulos (from her novel Hush) and directed by Icelandic Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, the greatest reveal in MALEVOLENT brings it crashing down to a very real horrifying place here on Earth, and the spirit realm becomes a peripheral diversion, almost a McGuffin, and though the overarching plot is not an entirely original device (ghosts helping the living find their murderer), it is this movie’s strength.

Along with Angela’s classical arse.


Director: Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.
Writers: Ben Ketai, Eva Konstantopoulos.
Music: Al Hardiman.
Starring: Florence Pugh, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Scott Chambers, Georgina Bevan, Nicola Grier, Celia Imrie, James Cosmo, Niall Greig Fulton.
RATINGS-06 imdb
Word Count: 600      No. 1,440
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