‘Malignant’: How James Wan Captured Gabriel’s Contortionist Movements

Filmmaker James Wan has proven himself to be a master of the horror genre. He’s behind huge franchises such as Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. He’s incorporated body horror elements through multiple of his movies. Saw shows the human body sustaining great injury. Meanwhile, his supernatural horror movies include the human body contorting in disturbing ways during the possession or an appearance from the entity. Wan’s newest movie Malignant includes an antagonist that takes the body horror up a notch.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from Malignant.]

Who is Gabriel in ‘Malignant’?

'Malignant' actor Annabelle Wallis afraid
Annabelle Wallis | Warner Bros. Pictures

Malignant shocked critics and audiences around the world with its big, violent twist ending. An entity appears to have invaded Madison’s (Annabelle Wallis) home at the beginning of the movie. She suffers from terrifying visions of brutal murders. However, she soon discovers that she’s witnessing actual killings.

It’s revealed that Madison was born with a parasitic twin, known as Gabriel. She doesn’t remember the part of her past when she was in a hospital. Gabriel was mostly removed, but he has awaken after her head was smacked against the wall. Gabriel takes over Madison’s body to commit the murders. As a result, Malignant‘s climax is a bloodbath.

‘Malignant’ utilizes incredible contortionist movements

Wan and actor Ingrid Bisu sat down to talk about Malignant with Bloody Disgusting. Bisu explained how the decision was made for how Gabriel would move. “We decided what if Gabriel not only exists there, but he takes over the body in movement, so he moves backward,” Bisu said. “We started experimenting with that. We looked silly, but I think it translated well in the picture.”

Wan mentioned that they brought Gabriel’s parasitic form to life with the use of animatronics. However, multiple performers are credited for bringing Gabriel to life in his more active sequences. He said, “Whenever Gabriel comes out of Madison and possesses her, it’s a combination of a bunch of people.”

The director continued how contortionist Marina Mazepa was one of the people who brought these scenes to life: “First Annabelle Wallis’ performances, then we switched to Marina, who is this contortionist and dancer. She would study and create this new character in terms of her movement. Marina would wear an Annabelle Wallis mask on her face, and she would have an animatronic Gabriel in the back of her head. She would play out a lot of her scenes just backward, literally backward.”

Wan initially believed that he would have to use tricks to accomplish this backward movement. However, his talent saved him a lot of trouble. “I thought that I would have to shoot things in reverse and then play it forward,” the filmmaker explained. “But I didn’t have to cheat and do any trickery because Marina did such an amazing job knowing how to move backward and rehearsing her movement. It was pretty interesting and amazing to watch when we were shooting it.”

Gabriel was also brought to life by “Twisty” Troy James. “It was a combo of two of them,” Wan mentioned. “We met them, and they started demonstrating things in the office. It blew my mind. They really brought it. I feel like they made our vision come to life because we can only imagine so much of that movement, but neither of us can do it. Both of them are absolutely incredible.”

Marina Mazepa and “Twisty” Troy James

Mazepa previously starred in the television series So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent. Malignant isn’t Mazepa’s first showing as an entity. She played Mary of Elnor in The Unholy earlier this year. Next, she’ll be performing as Lisa Trevor in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.

Meanwhile, James has a few more credits to his name. He played Baba Yaga in 2019’s Hellboy, Jangly Man in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and as mongrels in The Strain. James terrified audiences with his performance as Pretzel Jack in Channel Zero: The Dream Door.

Mazepa and James’ works display how talented contortionists are able to successfully bring horror movies to life without the use of too many special effects. Malignant is an excellent showcase of contortionism being used to supplement body horror.

RELATED: ‘There’s Someone Inside Your House’: The James Wan-Produced Horror Slasher Movie Teases a Creepy Killer