The horror genre continues to mine the power of trauma to craft genuinely scary effects. However, Malum takes these ideas a step further. While trauma remains at the heart of the horror flick, the actions taken by an officer’s father become the source of the tragedy. Based on his own film Last Shift, director Anthony DiBlasi reimagines his own horror cult hit.
Young cop Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) works a shift at a closing police station. Her father Will (Eric Olson) helped bring down a cult leader named John Malum (Chaney Morrow). However, in the days afterward, he killed several of his fellow officers. As Jessica sits in the station, she begins to hear voices. Soon, she must deal with a homeless man, visions of her grief, and threatening prank calls from the cult.
DiBlasi pulls the story from his original film but immediately engages in a far darker and upsetting key. Malum drops the sterilized station of the first film, embracing a grimy, mold-ridden station instead. In Malum, the world begins to overwhelm the viewer. This building feels more in the vein of a dungeon than a police station. To add to the disorientation, DP Sean McDaniel casts most of the world in shadow. This optimizes jump scares while psychologically contributing to the rust and sludge on the walls. This is a dirty place that would be scary if it was not haunted.
To further add to the intrigue, DiBlasi adds considerable backstory to the cult. They become a focal point of Malum, as does the relationship between Jessica and her father. Borrowing from other films, including Hellraiser and American Werewolf in London, we see gnarly visceral images of decaying souls. The makeup effects are outstanding, and seeing the half-rotten visions of the characters adds to nerves. By the time DiBlasi introduces his actual monsters into the story, the audience has been primed to feel the shiver down their spine. The creature design throughout Malum deserves the highest praise.
However, while DiBlasi figures out how to maximize the visuals, the story still feels flat. We understand the very straightforward story, but DiBlasi and co-writer Scott Poiley seemingly sleepwalk through the repeated sections of the story. When Malum gives us background, it genuinely scares the hell out of you. Yet everything else feels like karaoke of Last Shift, hurting the need for a remake.
The problems in Malum might not be quite so stark if it did not follow Last Shift so effectively. Many scenes are lifted straight out of that film, with the extra budget showing on occasion. However, the overreliance on jump scares and arguably worse camera blocking cause Malum to struggle.
Sula does her best to keep the ball rolling, but Malum struggles with some of her material. While her screen time with Natalie Victoria helps us connect to the woman, the other characters add very little chemistry or information. At times, she devolves into a sobbing woman trying to survive the night, Malum strips her of agency. Match-cuts help to ramp up and deescalate tension, the damage is already done.
On the other hand, DiBlasi shines on the creature creation aspects of the story. The monsters, both human and demon, are terrifying to witness. The images of Chaney Morrow nad his followers are far more sinister in this version. While Last Shift falls closer to the Rob Zombie style of horror, Malum takes a page out of Waco. Additionally, the blood, guts, and gore are executed to perfection. The violence becomes impossible to ignore, mostly because the images are captivating while stomach-churning. The production design adds to the shocking imagery. Malum feels far more advanced as a craft exercise.
While Malum still offers plenty of frights, it struggles to get out of the shadow of Last Shift. Yet it undeniably features impeccable craft from beginning to end. The original film would have the edge. Yet Malum does just enough to separate it that it should bring in fans of both Last Shift and horror fandoms in general.