Without reading too much into it, the intrinsic meaning is that either by genetics or through circumstance anything poorly done in life by one’s parents is more than likely going to resurface at some point in the sons and daughters. Though the passage might have Biblical connotations as well, I’ve always thought that it really only implies that a bloodline might get more than a single chance to accomplish some feat; barring any substandard performance, then the hope would be that the second time would prove fruitful. Whether or not this signifies that that the elder will find the same redemption and/or salvation from the deeds of his descendants is unclear but mark my words: curses do seem to travel along the strands of DNA, and that’s most of what I take away from my single viewing of Malum (2023).
From what I’ve come to know, the picture is actually a bit of a creative do-over for writer/director Anthony DiBlasi. Apparently, his Night Shift (2014) – which I haven’t seen – stuck with him so fervently over the years that he opted to revisit it here, and I can only guess that it’s been expanded and/or deepened for audiences. A review of his IMDB.com profile suggests that he took a short break from the business of filmmaking, and perhaps – in that interim – that original flick kept him awake at night, so much so that he opted to once and for all put that ghost to bed with an all-new exploration.
Perhaps he should’ve waited a bit longer?
I don’t mean that to sound as snarky as it might, because there’s a lot to love about Malum. Functionally, it’s a fairly tightly woven script that presents from clever chills and spills with what I’d say is ‘just enough’ substance to make it all come together. For me, the problem lies in the presentation, and I’ll be happy to peel back that layer after the brief disclaimer.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A rookie police officer willingly takes the last shift at a newly decommissioned police station in an attempt to uncover the mysterious connection between her father’s death and a vicious cult.”
Officer Jessica Loren (played by Jessica Sula) wanted to follow in the steps of her father – fallen police captain Will Loren – so much so that she requested her first night on the job to ‘man the phones’ at the decommissioned station wherein dear ol’ dad took his life exactly one year ago. Now, just exactly why a precinct would keep a defunct and decommissioned location staffed with a single officer might not make much sense – especially given the amount of bedlam this particular city of Lanford seems to be stricken with on this specific night – but if you buy into that narrative set-up, you’re off and running. If you don’t – if it seems like so perfect a scenario that you could only be in a movie script – then your world view is likely as tarnished as is mine.
Setting aside the glaring obviousness of the set-up is actually accomplished very easily as Loren goes about the business of doing – ahem – very little actually resembling police work. For a time, she roams these quiet hallways, stopping only when a noise here or there prompts her to investigate; and – propelled by the drive to understand exactly what went wrong with her father – she begins looking for clues that might help resolve the mystery of her life. Lo and behold, she does uncover a small cache of evidence left behind beneath the base of her dad’s locker, and – before you know it – she’s off to the races trying to put together an increasingly bloody puzzle that just might spell her own doom.
To be fair, there are a few other occurrences that take place on her shift, but what matters here is Jessica’s quest. While these happenings might ultimately tie into the whole affair – ever heard of being at the wrong place at the wrong time? – they’re little more than camera fodder for a film centered on as much psychological suspicion as it is good old-fashioned bloodletting. Suffice it to say, that phantom spirit that pushed her old man to the brink of madness is still very much at work in Lanford, and if the young lady isn’t careful, why, she’s likely to be smitten with the same psychosis!
Or is she?
The chief problem I have with all of Malum is that – if you’re watching closely – it gets introduced very early on that this old house is infected with a mold. Yes – since this is the movies, after all – this is not just any mold, but it’s one that – if you’re exposed to it – causes hallucinations. If you’re like me, then once that factor gets so heavily established it becomes nearly impossible to separate reality from fantasy … and let’s just say that, clearly, the bulk of what remains of Jessica’s first and only work shift is plagued with far too many ‘did this happen or not’ moments. Once the storyteller certifies that you have a untrustworthy narrator, audiences can rest assured that the house of cards most decidedly will be falling apart before all is said and done.
None of this takes away from what Malum does well, and – as a carnival-style attraction that’s meant to make you jump – it’s vastly smarter than your average bear. The technical proficiency involving the camera work, the performances, and the special effects warrants a good amount of respect, especially given the fact that so very much of this feels like a small budget and/or independent production. In fact, those elements alone kept me watching and interested in Jessica’s personal journey. I just wish her rationality hadn’t been so obviously in question from so early in the picture.
Malum (2023) was produced by Welcome Villain. According to the press materials I have been provided, Malum is presently available for streaming purchase (effective 05/16/2023) on such platforms as iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and Google Play. As for the technical specifications? Nothing short of ‘wow.’ The film looks and sounds incredible from start-to-finish, with director DiBlasi suitably cultivating a dynamic atmosphere for all things that go bump in the night … and not only to they go bump? They bleed extremely well, too! The film features some excellent practical Horror effects for fans who enjoy that sort of thing, and I’m not ashamed to admit I do. As this was a streaming presentation, there were no special features to comment upon.
Despite some narrative issues – as in “what’s really happening here?” – Malum is mostly a lean and efficient thriller. Jessica Sula gives a compelling central performance, shouldering the weight of so much storytelling with relative ease. Cinematography both inside and outside the decommissioned police precinct is quite good. Also, I’d be a fool if I failed to mention again that the in-camera practical effects are exceedingly well-crafted, the kind of thing this reviewer wishes more Horror flicks were doing these days. If you can look the other way with respect to the film’s somewhat pronounced shortcomings, then you’re definitely in for one of the wildest nights in this young lady’s short life.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Welcome Villain provided me with complimentary streaming access to Malum (2023) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.