This review contains spoilers.
The Devil, times two!
Less than 10 years after Anthony DiBlasi’s satanic genre-horror “Last Shift” was unleashed on the world, the director released a remake called “Malum” on March 31. Horror film remakes have a tendency to fall flat — and, although “Malum” has its shining moments, it ultimately falls victim to that common curse.
“Malum” follows rookie cop Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) as she keeps watch by herself at the now-abandoned police station where her father, who was also a police officer, murdered several colleagues before killing himself some years ago. Concerning events begin to occur around the city and inside the station, but Jessica struggles to discern between reality and hallucinations. As she wanders the station’s seemingly-endless corridors stained with a bloody past and a heaping of black mold, she begins to wonder whether she’s imagining things or encountering an unimaginable evil.
The main problem with “Malum” is its storyline. Surrounding a twisted family history and their involvement with a satanic cult, the screenplay cuts corners and leaves you scratching your head, even as the credits begin to roll. No single character is entirely three-dimensional, not to mention the illogical decisions every character continues to make. As a final touch, every instance in the film where Jessica gets a moment to breathe, she begins to recite verses. However, these verses are not from the Bible — they’re from the police educational handbook.
The film’s runtime unravels as if it is a grand mystery on its way to being solved, but in the end remains wandering aimlessly through its own dark corridors, just as lost as Jessica herself. “Malum” leaves the impression that it cares more for screams than substance, which would be acceptable in the face of real terror, but feels lackluster when, by the film’s bloody end, you still don’t even know what you’re supposed to be scared of. This kind of ambiguity can be effective as its own kind of fear-factor, but when it feels more lazy than intentional, you’re left yawning where you should be screaming — a horror film’s ultimate failure.
Commendable, however, are the performances of some of the film’s stars. Candice Coke, who plays Jessica’s mother Diane Loren, wears a believable grief-stricken heaviness on her face in every frame. Although the script does not give her much to work with, she exercises a masterful command in tone and an impressive grip on subtlety to deliver a chillingly convincing performance. Sula wavers in the face of dialogue, but delivers as a scream queen. Her terror is palpable and pulses through the film like a visual heartbeat, elevating what could have been a mundane slow-burn into a frightening collection of scares.
Similar to its predecessor, “Malum” leans heavily on classic horror tropes, like the jumpscare, to develop a frightening atmosphere. Most of the horrors Jessica encounters in the pitch-black hallways and dilapidated closets of the police station are hallucinations. Whether they are the result of the black mold that lines the ceilings or the sinister trickery of a demonic force, however, is left for us to decide. While these jumpscares are predictable, they’re still sometimes effective, and suspense nonetheless builds as Jessica continues to make one horrible decision after another — whether it be investigating a creepy noise or opening yet another blood-stained door.
These spooks are short-lived, however. The film uses one critical element to suspend a blanket of terror over its entire runtime: special effects. A large part of “Last Shift’s” critical acclaim was its use of makeup, props and costuming. “Malum” stays true to its roots, and its visceral visuals are perhaps the only thing keeping the film from falling flat on its bloody face. A genuinely eerie set design depicts Jessica in intense claustrophobia, and as she makes her way through the darkness it becomes increasingly believable that something truly evil lurks in the shadows.
And once blood begins to spill, it doesn’t just rain — it pours. Chock-full of gruesome and creative deaths in combination with a special touch of found footage-esque film stock, the third act is splashed with a thick red film of satisfyingly scary blood. When the grand reveal unleashes a spine-chilling monster of a demon, you’re left with equally powerful urges to look away and to stare right into its eyes, an effect only achieved by the most blood-curdling of images.
Overall, “Malum” fails to establish itself among the hall of fame of horror remakes, but due to its willingness to get its hands dirty and its playful appetite for fright, the film is an entertaining journey through hell and back that is worth seeing on the big screen. If you’re up for the challenge, just prepare to bring an umbrella — the forecast calls for heavy showers — of blood, that is.
Nathan Rubin (he/him) (25C) is from Fort Mill, South Carolina, double majoring in film and media and English. Outside of The Wheel, Rubin is a college admissions advisor for Matriculate and a member and contributor to Emory’s Alloy Literary Magazine. In his free time, he watches way too many horror movies and drinks way too many Baja Blasts.