It’s funny when coincidences just happen sometimes. I had found myself doing a significant amount of research on writer/director Anthony DiBlasi. During my research I realized he was writer, along with Scott Poiley, and director of Last Shift. Even seeing this film almost 10 years ago, images of the intense horror are still burned into my brain. My research concluded and I went on with my day. That’s when my Gmail pinged. A press release teasing the trailer for Malum? Sounds interesting enough on title alone. Wait. It’s a reimagining of Last Shift with the same writers and director? Sign me up!
From the trailer alone I was hooked. If you’re a fan of Last Shift you’ll notice some similarities between the two films based on the trailer alone, but what the trailer did best was tease new ideas. I would be fine with just a pure reboot of Last Shift if it followed the same exact story, because it’s a great story. Malum doesn’t do that. It’s kind of like remodeling a house you built years ago. You may love what you’ve built, but you’re ready to do it over again. The bones are still there, the structural support for the story is still the same, but the result is fresh. Isn’t that really what makes a house a home, and a story a story? The bones of Last Shift are relevant and there for Malum, but after heavy remodeling, time, energy, and love, you have a completely different outcome. Those metaphors got pretty muddled.
Malum is a bold and expanded reimagining of the 2014 horror cult classic, Last Shift. On a search to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding her father’s death, a newly appointed police officer, Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) is assigned to the last shift in a decommissioned police station where a notoriously vicious cult saw their demise years prior. The lone officer at the station, she soon finds herself barraged by terrifying paranormal events, and in the process, is taken on a journey during which she learns the shocking truth behind her family’s entanglement with a demented cult leader. Malum takes the premise of the 2014 festival hit and flips it on its head, thrusting viewers into an unrelenting, adrenaline-fueled, bloody cult nightmare.
One of the factors that makes Malum succeed, and already sets it apart from its predecessor, is the setting. Officer Jessica Loren finds herself working the graveyard shift in police station that is being closed down. Malum would have probably been fine if filmed on a set. The use of an actual abandoned prison in Kentucky adds so much to the feel of this film. It feels lived in, maybe a little too lived in. (It should also be noted Last Shift was filmed in a recently closed prison in Florida.) Last Shift utilizes blindingly white walls to create a sort of sterile feel, while Malum sets the tone immediately by utilizing the previously white, now yellowed with years of grime, walls to create a crusty and almost sticky atmosphere. It’s almost as if the air looks and feels thick with asbestos and despair.
Jessica Sula had some big shoes to fill from Juliana Harkavy’s performance of the character, and she absolutely hits it out of the park. The character of Jessica Loren is a tragic one, but handled differently through both iterations. Sula finds herself with a character that is deeper and a lot more nuanced than Harkavy’s. There’s nothing bad about that, I think both characters are perfect fits for their respective films. Sula takes the unfortunate circumstances she is thrust into and grants viewers with a completely realized performance. It’s interesting to see someone who is fairly fresh to the genre, with Sula’s previous genre credits being Spilt and Scream: The TV Series, take such a demanding role. In my interview with DiBlasi and Sula, she made a point to mention how she was initially a bit trepidatious to take the role. I think we should all be glad she took the role, horror found itself a new leading lady.
Alongside Jessica Sula the other shining star of Malum is RusselFX. I’ve been no stranger on hyping up RusselFX whenever I see a project they work on. There’s something about their work that really surpasses most others in their field. Malum is full of blood, sinew and viscera, and RusselFX makes it all look as gnarly and realistic as possible. The multiple creature designs look and feel absolutely insane. There is one specific moment where their work truly shines; you’ll know the scene when it comes to it. Psychological horror is definitely the driving force of scares behind Malum, and RusselFX finds a way to create effects that work with the psychological aspects rather than taking anything away from those moments.
The last thing I would be remiss to gloss over is The Flock. This is truly where I think this film will either make it worth it for some audiences and lose other audiences. Last Shift shows us bits and pieces of the cult while still finding a way to remain fairly ambiguous with the ideas presented. I love ambiguity in horror, which is one of the things I truly appreciated in Last Shift. Malum on the other hand takes the cult, named The Flock, and puts them center stage with Jessica. The idea of an Assault on Precinct 13 meets cult horror sounds intriguing enough, and I think that’s all it really needs to be left at. Malum has a tendency to focus a bit too heavily on explaining the cult and their intricacies. The Flock is frightening, there is no question about that, I just wish we were served about 20% less information on them. In Last Shift the cult feels more chaotic and unhinged, whereas Malum sort of grounds The Flock by making them more poetic and transgressive. There is more of a Hollywood feel to the script of Malum, and I think The Flock falls a bit more into the overwritten category.
Set to Outlast composer Samuel Laflamme’s score, Malum feels like Clive Barker’s Assault on Precinct 13, that will take you on an hour-and-a-half ride straight through the pits of hell. Fans of Last Shift will be happy with this product. I do wish there was a bit more ambiguity to the story, but I get why Malum goes the direction it does. Full of blood, guts, and fan service, Malum is one nasty film. I was a bit worried it might feel a bit copaganda-ish and was surprised it took a fairly neutral stance towards the police. This film exists to create true fear in the viewer and that is where it really excels.
Malum releases in theatres March 31.