A filmmaker deciding to reboot their own movie less than a decade after it originally came out is an unorthodox idea, to say the very least. But Anthony DiBlasi has never played by the rules, with his impressive career taking in all facets of horror from slashers (Most Likely to Die) to haunted house shockers (Extremity), psychological thrillers (Missionary), and plenty more. Undoubtedly DiBlasi’s most beloved film to date is Last Shift, a supernatural chiller set in an out-of-use police station that has shades of Assault on Precinct 13 but is also very defiantly its own thing. A genuinely terrifying exercise in sustained tension with little release across its slick 88-minutes, Last Shift made its mark on diehards but otherwise remained criminally under-seen. Malum, a reboot/continuation of the story, sets out to right that wrong. But can the movie justify its existence?
From its opening moments, it’s clear that DiBlasi and co-screenwriter Scott Poiley are not playing around. Malum opens with creepy video evidence from a backwoods cult, led by the eponymous John Michael Malum (a slight update from Last Shift’s John Michael Paymon). There are satanic sacrifices, ritual slaughter, and plenty of off-key chanting, all of which is presented grainy found-footage style. If this were 15-years ago, the whole movie would play out like this and we wouldn’t get to see much of anything, but thankfully we’re past all that and DiBlasi is looking to widen the scope in every conceivable way this time around.
Although much of the action is still contained to the decommissioned cop shop, there’s some important scene-setting before we actually get there, which establishes lead Jessica (Jessica Sula of Split) as the daughter of slain cop Will Loren (Eric Olson). This adds another wrinkle to the proceedings because everybody that Jessica meets immediately associates her with Will, who just a year prior, laid waste to the station, killing several of his fellow officers in the process. The rookie cop is eager to figure out what really happened to her father, hence why she’s volunteered to sit alone in this creepy building all night. The location is a terrific find. Hell, the place is scary enough as it is, all cavernous and labyrinthine. The camera weaves in and out of darkened, empty rooms, and around ominous corners, gradually leading us to feel just as disorientated as Jessica.
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The setting, although familiar, is more expansive than its predecessor’s, which allows Malum to lay on the scares thicker, faster, and harder. A propulsive score makes it seem like something scary is always just about to happen–and more often than not, it is, which can make Malum feel slightly exhausting at times. DiBlasi consistently makes us question what we’re seeing too, with figures often lurking in the background of shots unbeknownst to Jessica. The SFX, by wunderkind duo Josh and Sierra Russell–who are quickly becoming the go-tos for indie horror filmmakers, and rightly so–are awe-inspiring and hands-over-your-eyes grisly. The makeup is super impressive too, hearkening back to Last Shift without necessarily re-treading the same ground.
Although the temple baron, which pops up in graffiti throughout the film, looks like a cute little ghost with a pentagram for a head (side note: this would be a great tattoo idea), when the demon itself finally shows up it’s a real “holy sh*t!” moment. The major selling point of Malum, aside from Sula’s controlled, confident performance in the lead role, is the imagery. Disturbing, evocative, and incredibly unique, it’s pure nightmare fuel, cleverly building on what DiBlasi established in the prior movie. However, while Last Shift was a slow burn, Malum is more of a rollercoaster, though it does shine in the quieter moments too, with Jessica frequently shot sitting with her back to a bunch of big windows, emphasizing how exposed the newbie really is.
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The story is predicated on the idea that Malum, the man, was killed in custody but just as Jessica starts to lose her grip on reality, so too do we begin to question what’s real and what isn’t. By the end–which packs a real gut-punch, naturally–it’s unclear whether any of what we’ve just watched was real, much to DiBlasi and Poiley’s immense credit. Fans of Last Shift might find the tonal shift slightly jarring here, especially since there’s plenty of overlap between the original movie and this requel, as it were. But if the intention was to build on what came before, rather than simply rehashing it, then that goal has been achieved and then some. It may be more blunt force more so than scalpel sharp, but Malum is one hell of a journey (pun very much intended), with more in common with Baskin than Assault on Precinct 13–and that’s certainly a reason to give praise to the dark lord.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Anthony DiBlasi
Writer(s): Anthony DiBlasi, Scott Poiley
Stars: Jessica Sula, Eric Olsen, Chaney Morror, Candice Coke
Release date: March 31, 2023 (theaters)
Run Time: 92 minutes