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SYFY WIRE Malignant

'Malignant' director James Wan reveals how he brought the movie’s evil entity to life

By Vanessa Armstrong
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Malignant has James Wan going back to his gritty horror roots, but Gabriel, Malignant’s evil entity, is a very different sort of baddie than Jigsaw or any of The Conjuring's supernatural spooks. SYFY WIRE took part in a roundtable discussion with Wan to talk about his latest film and what it took to bring Gabriel to the screen.

Warning! Major Spoilers for Malignant below!

In Malignant, Maddie (Annabelle Wallis) finds herself inexplicably connected to an evil creature called Gabriel. As the movie unfolds, we learn that Gabriel and Maddie are connected from their childhoods … literally — Gabriel and Maddie were twins who shared a brain. Maddie came out fully developed, but Gabriel came out underdeveloped and grafted onto his sister’s back.

The hospital studying them eventually decided to “cut out the cancer,” (aka Gabriel). Since the two shared a brain, however, the doctors did a totally reasonable and not-terrifying thing and simply pushed Gabriel’s skeleton face into Maddie’s skull and sewed her up.

Gabriel gets out after Maddie’s abusive husband cracks her head against the wall, and murder ensues from there. How Wan created Gabriel, both when the evil twin was fully on Maddie’s back when they were children and when his face comes out of the back of Maddie’s skull, is an impressive piece of visual effects work.

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“Designing and bringing Gabriel to life wasn't an easy task — it really took the entire filmmaking village,” Wan said during the discussion. One major part of that was dancer Marina Mazepa, who — subbing in for Wallis as Maddie — did all of Gabriel’s fighting scenes backward since Gabriel saw out of the back of Maddie’s head. “I thought I had to shoot a lot of the movie in reverse, and then playback in reverse,” Wan said. “What was amazing about Marina is just how quick of a study she is … she literally did all the fighting backward, blindly.”

Mazepa’s work was only part of the equation, of course. VFX shop Spectral Motion was behind all of the animatronics that made Gabriel suitably terrifying. ILM also helped on the digital side make Gabriel an unforgettable evil force. “Like most practical effects, you need to hide the puppeteer, you need to hide the cables and stuff like that,” Wan explained. “But the great thing with having modern visual effects at our disposal compared to what they had in the 80s is, I could paint people out —  I can have people be really close by and have cables sticking out and stuff like that that doesn't have to be in the final film.”

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Wan also used the soundscape of the film to show how Gabriel gradually grows in power. “I really wanted the soundscape to start off small with [Gabriel], like a child growing up, like almost a child having a tantrum. And as the movie progresses, he becomes more and more eloquent," Wan explained.

The combination of all these aspects come together in Malignant, making Gabriel someone who will very likely haunt your nightmares. Wan and his team’s effort also created a unique horror creature, something that was important to Wan going into the film. “I really wanted to create a villain that we haven't quite seen before,” he said. “And it really took a lot of work to get it to this level.”

You can see Gabriel in all his horrifying glory now. Malignant is playing in theaters and on HBO Max.

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