Florence Pugh, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Celia Imrie, Scott Chambers, Georgina Bevan, James Cosmo, Niall Greig Fulton, and some spooky scary foster kids.
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WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
In late 80s Scotland, Angela (Pugh) and Jackson (Lloyd-Hughes) are a brother-sister pair who run a business in which they investigate haunted houses and help the owners rid their homes of scary ghosts for a fee. Angela is a psychic who can seek out entities and help them find the light. Jackson, his girlfriend Beth (Bevan), and his buddy Elliot (Chambers) assist with the technical set-up which involves lighting and filming the investigation.
Unfortunately, it's all a con job which they inherited from the their late mother who ran an identical business in the U.S. The scammers seat the victim in another room with a live camera on Angela while cameraman Elliot plays spooky voices on a tape recorder and fakes other sounds and rigs objects to move. Their methods are pretty innovative and I hope the bazillion paranormal YouTubers can try this one day.
On one particular investigation, Angela has a chilling encounter with a screaming mannequin that's not Kim Cattrall and starts to realize that maybe this ghost stuff might be real after all. A bloody nose and another encounter with a spirit at her school confirms her belief, so she informs brother Jackson that she's done busting ghosts because it doesn't make her feel good. Meanwhile, shifty Jackson is in deep shit and in debt to some devious characters.
Desperate for cash, he begs Angela to do just one more swindle. This new case comes from the mysterious Ms. Green, an elderly owner of a huge mansion that is bedeviled by the spirits of little girls who were murdered by her psychotic son (Fulton) decades prior. They were her foster children whom she took in and now wrecked with guilt, she seeks solace and an end to the torment of these tragic events. She also needs a Kleenex.
Angela who learns from her grandfather (Cosmo) that her mother also had the ability to see and communicate with ghosts which may have manifested by guilt from ripping off so many innocent people and contributed to her untimely death. Angela eventually agrees to help Jackson and the team travels to Green's remote home where they soon discover faking evidence may not be necessary.
Although Angela sees the little girls everywhere, nothing is caught on film, leading Green to suspect that Jackson's crew are not legit. Meanwhile, suspicions rise amongst the crooked investigators over Green's true motive in calling them to her home. As the night goes on, everyone encounters the ghosts as the 60s novelty tune Beep Beep echoes creepily throughout the halls. Somebody call Dr. Demento!
The cute little specters who look like they've dived into the cherry pie seek vengeance for their early demise and the team is attacked one after the other. They rush to escape only to be stopped by Green and her very alive son who have sinister plans for our conniving scammers.
Cornered and left to the malevolent (aha!) and sadistic thirst of Ma and Junior Green, Angela and the gang have to fight their way out. And after long in denial over her powers, Angela is forced to use them to get her and her friends out of this torture mansion alive, even if it means making a deal with the dead.
I’ll admit that I’m not very good at describing actors and their approach to performance and sorely lack the ability or qualifications to critique or wax poetic on the fine art of acting. All I can comment is how they make me feel and what they make me think about when I watch them play pretend up there on the big screen. And I can say this for sure, Florence Pugh has never failed to make me like her. From the first time I saw her in Fighting with My Family to her heroic turn in Black Widow to the exercise in tedium Don’t Worry Darling to her full glory in Oppenheimer, she has never disappointed. To say nothing about her folk horror turn in Midsommar! Despite the breadth of genres she has worked, she appears both down to earth yet inaccessible, and I’m not talking about her looks, sashay, or superhero landings. She’s someone you could sit down and tell fart jokes over a beer and nachos and later attend a hoity toity celebrity cotillon with living fart jokes. Her natural acting qualities and unique and endearing personality evoke the same way I felt about Jennifer Lawrence before she started acting like a phony goof at award shows and faking pratfalls like a footballer and making an awful X-Men movie. But FloPu just…sigh…
Goddamn it, I just spent a paragraph admitting to my Florence Pugh crush. Oh well.
This is all to say that Pugh carries this well-shot and tautly told tale of ghosts, grift, and guilt with a fine supporting cast and some decent jump scares. Her aura of soon-to-attain-stardom is evident in every shot and the rest of the cast including classy film veteran Imrie can only try to keep up. Lloyd-Hughes is completely unlikable as the shady and selfish Jackson up until the heartbreaking end which I won't spoil here. What's missing is the ghostlyness of it all, for lack of another better made-up word. The little girl spirits are seen here as solid beings and not suffering horrifying gossamer phantoms or the unseen threat they should be and as a result true scares are few. Nevertheless, director Olaf de Fleur crafts a economical story while retaining an air of mystery and builds the tension effectively with the resources at hand.
Malevolent is a slow-burning but commendable ghostly thriller and its running time, story pace, and opportunity to gaze upon the wonder of Ms. Pugh would make for a relaxing comedown after a truly scary movie in your Halloween night marathon.
As of 10/5/23, Malevolent is streaming on Netflix.