Horror meets "Assault on Precinct 13" in this lively if somewhat derivative scare flick about a rookie cop encountering demon-fueled chaos on her first night on the job.
It can be tough making movies to avoid repeating yourself or others, especially in the horror genre where you tend to see a lot of the same ol’ tropes and tricks trotted out over and over again. I think one of the reasons the “Scare” franchise continues to be popular is because it comments upon horror conventions even as it relies on them to whip up some frightening spectacles.
Even judging by this lax standard, “Malum” is something of a glaring retread. It’s about a rookie cop spending her very first night on the job watching over the decommissioned police station — the very one where her own father, a hero captain, killed some other LEOs before taking his own life.
The same demon-worshipping cult that kidnapped three teens a year ago before being rescued is rising up again with demonstrations and threats against the “piggies,” leading officer Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) to feel like the station is a fortress and she’s under assault — maybe even of the “Assault on Precinct 13” variety.
Heck, director Anthony DiBlasi, a horror veteran who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Poiley, basically made this same exact story eight years ago with 2014’s “Last Shift.” This is essentially a higher-budget remake with some cool special effects and truly creepy costumes and makeup.
Jessica’s father, Will (Eric Olson), was the guy who rescued the cult’s kidnap-ees a year earlier, but something of their sulfurous taint seems to have infected him, leading him to the infamous murder/suicide. Needless to say, she’s not exactly being welcomed with open arms by the other members of the Lanford Police Department.
Even her own mom, Diane (Candice Coke), has become a stumbling drunk who wants her to have nothing to do with the force.
Early on, it’s clear Jessica took this job and volunteered for this assignment guarding the old station as a way to snoop around for clues as to why her father did what he did. There’s his old locker, still padlocked, tempting her, and various other evidence will present itself, including a thumb drive with video interviews of some members of the cult.
Calling themselves the Flock of the Low God, they’re led by a charismatic hipster-looking dude (Chaney Morrow) whose name gives the film its title. He’s also got a crew of completely whack followers, mostly women, who take sadistic delight in dismembering and flailing their victims.
Clarke Wolfe and Morgan Lennon are standouts as a pair of particularly unhinged gals who take a lead role in the murder-izing. The masks worn by the cult members are truly unnerving, resembling plastic bags covering corpse-like visages with vaguely crustacean features.
“Malum” boasts plenty of gore, though it doesn’t linger on the truly nasty stuff, relying more on flash cuts leaving you to ask, “Did I just see what I thought…?”
Jessica receives various visitors during the course of the night, including a pig, a looming, deranged homeless man (Kevin Wayne) and a world-weary prostitute (Natalie Victoria) who’s just been beat up and dumped by her john. All of them seem to be infected by the taint of the cult that’s infection that station. The homeless guy begins chanting the refrain that is the film’s catchphrase: “Still here…”
Soon enough, the hallucinations invade Jessica’s own brain to the point she becomes unsure what’s real and what’s not. Is she fighting against the spread of the cult disease, or is she actually the spreader?
The pacing of “Malum” ebbs and flows, with some sections that positively crackle with tension-filled energy, and others that feel padded out and repetitive. I lost track of how many shots we get of Jessica wandering the dimly lit halls of the station, firearm drawn and crisscrossed across her off hand holding a flashlight. (Answer: too many.)
Sula gives an invested performance as a strong young woman thinks she’s got her head screwed on straight, but is pained to discover she may share more with her father than his heroic derring-do. We watch as her toughness is tested by various boo-gotcha scenarios and loathsome beasties.
“Malum” is a reasonably effective horror tale, even if it's liberally borrowing bits ‘n’ pieces for other film bodies to stitch together its own cadaver.