[WIHM] Horror is a Mirror Through Which Our Demons Can Be Seen in ‘Malevolent’

A promotional image for 'Malevolent'. Angela (Florence Pugh) is centre frame, close-up, her brother Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) is off to her right. Angela is wearing a black and white striped turtleneck and black leather jacket, her dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail, her skin pale and tired. Her nose is bleeding. Behind the pair is a dilapidated large house, and 3 dead looking young girls just behind Angela's left shoulder.

Based upon the novella Hush by Eva Konstantopoulos, Malevolent tells the story of Angela (Florence Pugh) and Jackson Sayers (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), a sister and brother who, along with their friend Elliot (Scott Chambers), and Jackson’s girlfriend Beth (Georgina Bevan), run a business in which they rid customers’ homes of their ghosts by faking paranormal activity. When they’re hired to rid a crumbling old foster home of its apparitions by the building’s desperate owner, they stumble onto long-buried secrets that perhaps ought to remain that way: the little girls who once lived there were kidnapped and killed one by one, their mouths sewn shut. Angela herself is just as haunted as the isolated house—she’s convinced that she’s suffering from the same, insanity-inducing supernatural visions that her late mother was tortured with. The longer the team spends entombed within the building, the less they can ignore the screaming quiet and the past torments that took place within. But Angela and Jackson quickly realise that malevolent entities do not like interference and will go to great lengths to keep things hush-hush.

Though Malevolent incorporates many of the well-known tropes that characterise a horror film—eerie houses, ghosts, unsolved murders—the way in which each of these aspects are presented and chained together fashions a film that is not only creepy but immensely tragic. Unfortunately, as it currently stands, it is a bit of a forgotten gem on Netflix and deserves more attention, especially when talking of women characters in horror.

This particular genre, unlike so many others, is unique in that it is inclusive. Anything, anyone, anywhere, any idea can be horrifying, which arguably makes these films some of the most compelling. Malevolent entangles family drama, psychological and physical trauma, mystery and the right amount of gore, jump scares and fear to create a story that lets its female lead take front and centre, as well as all her personal demons. Florence Pugh does a remarkable job portraying Angela, a young woman on the verge of a breakdown, forced to participate in a world that frightens her and follows her everywhere like a shadow, like scars. Coupled with the heartbreaking downward trajectory that the character is slated to follow throughout the piece, and Pugh’s ability to convey the subtleties of mental illness that often go unnoticed when no one is looking for them, Angela captures the audience’s sympathy and does not lose it. 

A still from 'Malevolent'. Angela (Florence Pugh) is shown in close-up, to the right of the image. She is a white woman in her 20s with dainty features. she has brown-reddish hair pulled into a ponytail and amber coloured eyes.

Horror is the most bizarre looking glass, it breathes life into our monsters, it makes them visceral, bloody and full-bodied. Each woman in the film is struggling in one form or another—Angela most of all, and the terrifying state of her external world reflects her inner one: her crumbling home life is mimicked by the dilapidated conditions of the foster home, stuffed full of rotting boards and bones. Her loneliness and silent anguish is paralleled by the murdered girls’ ghosts, their mouths stitched shut to prevent them from calling for help. The evidence she finds regarding the crimes, literally boarded up and hidden from prying eyes, speaks to the truth she is trying to ignore about herself and her family. These so-called ‘mirror images’ included from one scene to the next give weight to the genre and its aptitude for viewer immersion through production design, editing, and purposeful storytelling. 

It is our choice if we want to face these demons, and once we press play, we cannot outrun them. Like Angela, we have to live alongside them even when they lead to sleepless nights, misunderstood thoughts and self-hatred. Konstantopoulos’ protagonist is relatable. She is spooked by her circumstances, her past and her own mind. All this stems from the alleged hereditary gift she received from her mother, but from her own inner battle as well. In the novella, Angela admits: “I guess dead or alive, we’re all slaves to something.” She would be right. Whether it is someone we love, a place, a memory, or a feeling, an illness or a consequence, consciously or unconsciously, we are. And though the act of deliverance can be hard and painful, though we may lose ourselves or others along the way, first we must realise what those horrors are—and there’s no better medium to help us do so than film. 

Malevolent concludes in sadness, but hopeful sadness. Angela’s brother is murdered, and she’s left wounded, mouth half-sewn shut, nearly dead, but she’s not alone. Her gift—what she thought was a curse, a demon, a mental scar that was continually cut—saved her. They understand her because they are her. Horror can manifest in many different things but it’s inextricably linked to our lives; women especially are more intimate with such a reality. As Pugh/Angela and Konstantopoulos show, horror can never die but we can find the strength inside ourselves, regardless of how deep it may be hiding, to look in that mirror. And if we are unable to be okay with it, we can still understand the reflection that’s staring back. 

by Kacy Hogg

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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