Generational trauma is a potent source of horror; indeed, the sins of the parents are often paid for by the children. Anthony DiBlasi’s Malum is a story about how evil never really goes away, but instead lingers to revisit a new generation.
Malum is the story of Officer Jessica Loren, a rookie cop on her first shift whose father was something of a legend on the force until he unfortunately wasn’t. Coincidentally, this is the last shift at a decommissioned police station. A re-imagining of DiBlasi’s 2014 film Last Shift, the film follows Officer Loren through a surreal nightmare as she uncovers the secrets of the old police station, in the process sifting through her family’s fractured history and her own motivations for joining the force. When a murderous cult connected to her father’s death lays siege to the station, Officer Loren must fight for her life against a horde of fanatics bent on completing a ritual to their eldritch god, a ritual she herself is somehow key to.
Visually, this film is adept at keeping the viewer off balance. DiBlasi turns the police station into something from a vintage shoot em up video game, with unseen horrors lurking just around every corner and Jessica Sula being more than adequate at playing the audience surrogate. For the first act of the film, the boo jump out scare imagery is kept to a minimum. There are hints that something is wrong, sure, but DiBlasi keeps the horror in check for the first twenty minutes or so, instead relying on unsettling phone calls and an unsettling conversation with an unhoused man that shows up at the police station. Once Officer Loren breaks the rule of “stay out of holding”, however, the proverbial shit hits the fan and the film quickly kicks into a claustrophobic nightmare, a kaleidoscope of ghastly images and shrieking specters as well as revelations that Loren’s past is the reason all of this is going on. The last act of the film goes into all-out Assault On Precinct 13 meets The Shining territory, with Loren fighting her way through hordes of mask cultists while being accosted with visions of god knows what all up to an Jodorowsky-esque climax. It’s a blend of action and horror that knows the strengths of either genre and never lets himself get so over the top that it becomes a caricature of itself. There were a handful of slowburn moments that were capped off with tastefully done jump scares that avoid the cheap “gotcha” moments a lot of modern horror films seem to embrace.
Jessica Sula is fantastic as Officer Loren, presenting us with a character who, while competent is still shaken by what she’s witnesses and never once falls into any sort of tropey tough guy bullshit. She’s hard but vulnerable, and believable in her flagging determination to see this night through. And even though it’s quite clear the other officers despise her due to who her father is (when you see this you’ll understand) not once does she ever doubt that her father was, in his heart, a good man suffering from witnessing something unspeakable, even knowing the awful things that he did. Chaney Morrow is restrainedly chilling as John Malum, the leader of the Flock Of The Low God, an apocalyptic cult with ties to Loren’s past. Morrow regards the other officers with a mix of disdain and religious ecstasy and radiates the subdued manic energy of a true believer. He speaks in a mix of down home Southern fried religious -isms and strange archaic pseudo-Lovecraftian proclamations about being the vessel for the Low God and how he needs to find his Queen Of The Sunless Dawn (at one point I’m kind of certain he paraphrases F. Paul Wilson, but that’s neither here nor there) and that Officer Loren may be someone he’s been looking for decades now. He is menacing, a superficially reasonable monster with something bubbling just beneath the surface that makes the cartoonish declarations of Charles Manson seem even more ridiculous. And there’s even an appearance by genre sweetheart Clarke Wolfe as a flock member as a kind of Squeaky Fromme to Malum’s Manson.
Alas, this is not a film without its shortcomings. On its own, it’s quite enjoyable. It’s scary, it’s compelling, it’s paced fantastically, and it’s visually like a nightmare. My only real problem with this film is that is DiBlasi’s attempt at re-imagining of an earlier film of his unfortunately there are always going to be comparisons to the original film. Last Shift was the kind of film the mid-2010’s needed: sleek, mean, and straight to the point. It told a simple, lean story with plenty of horrific imagery and arguably didn’t need to be improved. It excelled at keeping the audience unsure as to what was actually happening versus what was merely going on in Officer Loren’s mind. It also gave us just enough mythos of the cult to provide context for all the horrific shit we were seeing. On its own, Malum admittedly does have an interesting mythos, but when it’s compared to the source material it feels a bit bloated and honestly at times weighs the film down. Last Shift was a straightforward nightmare, and while Malum absolutely succeeds in scaring the bejesus out of the viewer, there admittedly are moments when the exposition and backstory seems to drag the film down a bit. I truly believe this would be a fantastic film on its own, and I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but I feel that maybe if DiBlasi had channeled a lot of this energy into another project, or even a prequel of Last Shift it would’ve been a much stronger film.
Go see this film. If you enjoy the films of Sam Raimi and John Carpenter, and maybe even Lucio Fulci, I think you’ll enjoy this film quite a bit. Maybe see this first before you watch Last Shift, but seeing the prior film isn’t a necessity to enjoy this one. It’s bloody as hell and unrelenting once it finds its footing, and is an absolute blast the whole time.
Helmed by director Anthony DiBlasi (Last Shift, Dread, Extremity) and co-written by DiBlasi and Scott Poiley (Last Shift, Missionary, Exhume), the same creative team behind 2014’s LAST SHIFT, MALUM reimagines the original critically-acclaimed horror hit and expands the filmmaker’s vision of nightmare-inducing terror. MALUM opens in theaters on March 31st.