Not too many directors would remake a film less than 10 years old, especially one that’s regarded as a cult classic. However, when Anthony DiBlasi was given the opportunity to revisit the occult-charged police story with a bigger budget and first-rate practical effects, he met the idea halfway. “Malum” takes its predecessor’s concept and adds a deeper backstory, 80s-style practical effects, a nightmarish score of distorted synths by Samuel Laflamme, and an arresting performance by Jessica Sula (“Split”) as the rookie officer battling a satanic cult. Think of it as a first cousin to “Last Shift,” they share the same genes, but it looks and feels like an all-new original film.
Grainy video opens the film, giving us a glimpse inside the Malum cult. The farm atmosphere goes from frolicking in a river to human sacrifices, satanic symbols, and a few hungry pigs, probably offspring of the swine featured in Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch.” Cut to a police station where Captain Will Loren (Eric Olsen) is being celebrated. Regarded as a hero after rescuing three women held hostage by satanic cult leader John Malum (Chaney Morrow), the heroic cop falls from grace instantly as he becomes possessed and murders two fellow officers before turning the shotgun on himself.
One year later, rookie officer Jessica Loren (Sula) stands proud in her uniform preparing for her first shift. On the way to work she stops by the graveyard to visit her father, Will Loren’s grave. She still views him as a hero and it’s why she became a police officer. Her estranged mother Diane (Candice Coke), an alcoholic most days, was set against Jessica joining the force. She knew the challenges her daughter would face, including the chilly reception from colleagues once they find out disgraced Captain Will is her father.
Jessica confronts her father’s legacy head-on by volunteering for the night shift at the now-decommissioned police headquarters where he committed the murder-suicide. DiBlasi shot the film at an abandoned Louisville, KY precinct which looks like it was built in the 50s or 60s with tile walls that hold the residual energy of the building’s former occupants. The location, complete with overturned file cabinets, and exposed asbestos ceiling tiles, gives unparalleled authenticity, and “Assault on Precinct 13” vibes which makes for a perfect setting.
Relieving veteran officer Cole (Britt George) from the day watch, Jessica is instructed to “Stay out of holding” and call the new station if a problem arises. Backup is out of the question as officers have their hands full dealing with former members of the Malum cult as they cause chaos on the streets coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the raid that brought down the group.
As the shift commences, strange noises and voices permeate the abandoned building. Jessica begins receiving prank phone calls which lead to threats and a homeless man breaks into the facility. A prostitute named Marigold, played by Natalie Victoria who reprises her “Last Shift” role, is helped by Jessica after being assaulted by her last trick. She had a run-in with the Malum cult while in lockup and provides new insight into the case which doesn’t coincide with what Jessica was told. Things get creepier once Jessica finds a jump drive with graphic footage of the cult and soon all hell breaks loose, literally, as supernatural events begin to occur.
There is a great scene in the film that takes place in the station’s shooting range as paper targets move back and forth, one displaying the Malum cult’s satanic symbol in fresh blood. The jump scares are real, DiBlasi doesn’t waste the viewer’s time with artificial frights.
Apart from Jessica Sula’s immersive performance, the practical effects by RussellFX recall the work of Bob Keen from Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser.” The horror icon seems to be a significant inspiration to DiBlasi whose featured debut “Dread” was based on a short story by the author-director. The film’s last 30 minutes take the viewer on a rapid descent to hell with unforgettable images and a “feed the demon” finale that signifies horror is alive and well.
Written by DiBlasi and Scott Poiley (who also collaborated on “Last Shift”), “Malum” is the kind of film that will give you nightmares. The only reason to take a crack at something that’s already established is to make it better. Sometimes it works, as in “Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” or Michael Mann’s “L.A. Takedown” which became “Heat,” and sometimes it doesn’t as in Jean-Marie Poire’s “Les Visiteurs’ which was remade into “Just Visiting.” The rawness of “Last Shift” and the tense atmosphere helped make it a cult classic, but “Malum” is a better film. If this is your first foray into DiBlasi’s demonverse, I suggest starting with the new film in a theater. Later you can visit “Last Shift” to compare.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters