A team of fraudulent ghost hunters get more than they bargained for when real-deal apparitions start showing up in Malevolent, a fitfully fun new chiller now streaming on Netflix.
Set in the 1980s – if, for no other reason, to take cell phones out of the equation when things start to go south – Malevolent stars Florence Pugh (excellent in last year’s Lady Macbeth) and Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Breathe) as a pair of American siblings transplanted to Glasgow who drum up extra cash by claiming to rid homes of lingering supernatural presences.
In reality, Pugh’s Angela and Lloyd-Hughes’ Jackson are fraudsters who take advantage of the recently bereaved using their deceased mother’s old techniques. With the help of cameraman Elliot (Scott Chambers) and production assistant Beth (Georgina Bevan), the crew scams a grieving father and young daughter in Malevolent’s initial bout of ghostbusting.
Only problem: during Angela’s staged walk through the haunted house, she spots what just might have been the real deal.
Angela wants out, but her indebted brother ropes her in for one last gig: estate owner Mrs. Green (Celia Imrie) promises the team double their usual rate, if only they rid her home of the ghastly screams of long-dead children.
Her home just happens to be an isolated mansion in rural Scotland, and a former foster home where young girls were brutally murdered years ago. What could possibly go wrong?
Directed by former documentarian Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, Malevolent makes good use of its central premise, as the shyster Jackson quickly draws his no-budget production team in way over their heads and makes the wrong decision every step of the way.
And there are also some unexpected twists in climactic scenes in the screenplay by Eva Konstantopoulos and Ben Ketai, mostly relating to the history of the central location – – and wait dangers await our protagonists.
But the one thing that Malevolent lacks is effective scares: rarely raising anything above a light chill. The supernatural angle is especially underplayed, with the creepy girl ghosts used for a few mere jump scares before being incorporated by the plot, and ultimately forgotten.
Still, Malevolent is fun-enough ride bolstered by strong performances in its central roles. Pugh is a genuine star that, perhaps, puts more into this film than she gets out of it, and Lloyd-Hughes displays some real charisma as the hoaxster brother. Imrie, too, lends the film some gravitas despite an underwritten character, though James Cosmo is wasted in a single scene as the siblings’ grandfather.
Malevolent may not send real shivers down your spine, but it’s a solid little chiller that deserves a better fate than being buried in the Netflix catalog this October.