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  • Writer's pictureRob Binns

Malum (2023) Review and Summary | Ending Explained

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

“Your daddy started something very important. Tonight, we’re going to finish it.”

Caution! This Malum 2023 review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own peril!

Malum (2023) Movie Summary and Review

Malum opens with scenes grainy enough to have been pulled out of a 90s home movie – but it ain’t the kind of footage you’d want to be busting out for slideshows when your grandma pops round for tea.

Nope – this footage depicts members of the eponymous cult doing what they do best: placing burlap sacks over their victims’ heads, butchering them, then feeding them to pigs. We also get a glimpse of some viscera, a strange, pentagram-like symbol – written in blood, natch – and hear the cult praying to the temple of “The Low God”.

The scene soon segues into a shot of police officer Will Loren (Eric Olson), who – as we see via a scrap of conveniently expositional newsprint – should be high on life. He’s just saved a trio of girls from the Malum flock, but (here’s the kicker) he couldn’t save them all. A fourth, Betty Campbell (Monroe Cline), died.

It’s clear that Officer Loren isn’t feeling like the hero he should be, though, and – sure enough – he proceeds to go on a rampage: gunning down his colleagues with an evil, shit-eating grin on his face, before turning the double barrels on himself.

It’s a hell of a cold open – but does the rest of the movie deliver?

Let's find out!

A year on since the rampage, we follow newly minted cop Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula; better known to British viewers of my generation as Grace from Skins) as she heads off for her first shift. Malum was shot on location in Louisville, Kentucky, and we get some lovely sweeping shots of the cityscape as day edges into evening.

As Jessica nears the station, it soon becomes clear that the Malum Flock’s members are still very much active. We’re treated to some shots of Malum’s followers lounging on the steps outside the police station, swathed in the red light of sirens leering luridly into the abyss. Two of them are more interactive: throwing a piglet’s head at Jessica’s windscreen. (Malum loves using pigs to thematically link the police with the Malum cult; it’s not the first time we get this motif brandished in our faces, and it certainly won’t be the last.)

Anyways, after a brief tour by Britt George’s grumpy Officer Cohen (don’t worry too much about him; bar an inconsequential phone call later in the film, we don’t see the bloke again), Malum unveils its premise. Despite local police having moved to a new headquarters, Jessica must – on her first shift, remember – steward the old station. And, yep – you can better believe it’s the same station her Daddy painted the walls with using his colleague’s brains: exactly a year ago, tonight!

Officer Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) gets to grip with her workplace for the night with Officer Grip Cohen (Britt George) in Malum 2023

Officer Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) gets to grip with her workplace for the night with Officer Grip Cohen (Britt George).

On that conversation with Cohen: I found this strange. He calls Jessica’s father out for the multiple murders he authored a year ago, and she retorts that her father was “the best man [she’d] ever known.” This…feels weird? I mean, I get that you have to stand by your old man, but… he did blow a lot of people’s faces off?

Meh. Cohen heads off, and weird things start happening. A bearded, bedraggled-looking fellow turns up at the station. He babbles on, then urinates through the doors before mooching off. (Don’t worry though, baby – we’ll be seeing him later!)

For a while, the movie goes all The Conjuring on us. Elevators ding; taps drip; balls bounce; bells ring. Cult members call the station, taunting and terrifying its lone occupant.

Jessica breaks into her dad’s old locker and discovers a false bottom. It turns out to be full of clippings related to the Malum cult, so we get more exposition-y stuff through closeups of headlines and sepia images.

Through this, an outline of the Flock of the Low God – led by one John Michael Malum (Chaney Morrow) – begins to take shape. They were responsible for a bunch of ritualistic murders in the 90s, with a distinctly porcine modus operandi – feeding their poor victims, like Betty, to the pigs.

Malum, as a film, looks pretty good. Yes, it’s set at midnight in an abandoned police station – so it’s never going to be the brightest or most beautiful movie – but we do get some nice shots juxtaposing the mint-coloured tiles of the station with the orange-lit streets surrounding it. We had a superb cold open, we’re invested, and we’ve been fed enough information about the cult to keep us going, without over-saturating our curiosity.

Yet it’s hard to feel anything about Jessica. Our protagonist and proxy – perhaps unsurprising, given the lack of actors to bounce off and work with – comes across as a little too one-dimensional. (And I’d settle for two.) The preoccupation with building out the backstory of the Malum Flock takes centre stage; leaving character development watching on from the wings.

But back to the summary. The peeing guy from earlier is back, and after a bit of a scuffle, Jessica drags him into the holding cell. The door clicks shut, and we realise she’s locked in with this hirsute, unhinged hobo. Here, we get a fun jump scare when three hanging bodies – all with those burlap sacks we saw the victims in those videos earlier – suddenly plunge down right in front of Jessica. The hobo’s whispering from the darkness. It’s good. And we’re left wondering – is this the course the film is going to take? A tense, locked-room thriller?

Nope. The door opens all by itself, it all unravels, and we’re left, ironically, with a kind of Sliding Doors moment. That hypothetical film? Or the one we actually end up getting?

I say this because, from here, Malum begins to play fast and loose with its own nascent set of rules. Time starts skipping without rhyme or reason, leaving us dislocated and disorientated – yet, sadly, not remotely terrified.

Next, we get a kind of gross scene involving a passing-by hooker Jessica stops to help. The hooker sees something in the corner of the room and begins flipping her lid: chanting some of the strange ritualistic verses we heard at the beginning (and which proceed, non-diegetically and intermittently, throughout the film), and freaking out.

Around this time, we also get some between-scene closeups of cult-y drawings, and Polaroids of weird artefacts. Through these, we learn of a being called the “Temple Baron”: a pre-biblical demonic entity known as “the harbinger of the damned”.

Jessica continues to receive prank calls throughout the night, before discovering a USB containing more of the Malum-authored home videos we saw earlier. It’s standard stuff: brains getting bashed in with baseball bats, people dressed up in religious-adjacent attire doing strange things. (Incidentally, the acting in these scenes is truly bad; you have to see it to believe it.)

Fast-forward to the shooting gallery, and we’re treated to a decent jump scare when a fanged, shrouded figure pops out from behind a target. It’s a fun moment that – albeit a little more formulaic than what we’ve seen thus far – should have you spilling your popcorn.

An undead cult member leers into the camera in Malum 2023

Gah! Jump scare!

As Jessica continues to labour through the night, some respite arrives in the form of a slick Southern accented-voice through the other end of the phone.

The voice promises to come help her out, and collect the hobo in the holding cell. Between these scenes, we get a flashback to Jessica’s dad interrogating Malum (in this very station). Malum isn’t happy about being in custody, I guess, and promises Will that “I’m gonna come back for you and all you love.” Yikes.

More strange stuff happens, and we soon get the sense that Jessica isn’t the reliable narrator we thought she was. The movie’s descent into a Kafkaesque nightmare where dreams are inseparable from reality gains pace, and we see Jessica grabbed from behind by an unseen assailant – then strapped onto a gurney and into a body bag. She’s wheeled into what looks like a morgue, where we get an indecipherable scene of some more cult-y weirdness. I was looking into these passages for meaning up until about now – as it turns out, there isn’t much of it to be found.

Anyway, that benevolent voice from the other end of the phone turns up, and it’s a face we’ve seen before. We met Price (Sam Brooks) – and his partner, Hudson (Christopher Matthew Spencer) – at the beginning of the film, sharing a locker room with Will Loren before the latter’s killing spree. They rock off to decide who has to go turf Kevin Wayne’s hobo (whose name, the IMDb online tells me, is Nate) out of the holding cell.

Officer Price (Sam Brooks) stands at the decommissioned police station in Malum 2023

Officer Price (Sam Brooks) shows up for a chinwag.

While all this is going on, Jessica receives a call from a sinister-sounding presence on the other side of the phone telling her that the Malum flock has abducted the three girls Will Loren saved just over a year ago.

Still, given she’s been receiving vaguely threatening ‘prank calls’ all night – and that the film has already made it ambiguous around what’s real, and what’s a figment of the cult’s machinations – we need, as viewers, to take this with a pinch of salt.

We soon get a bit more exposition in the form of a flashback, where we see the Malum cult inducting a baby into the cult. As it turns out, that baby is – wait for it! – Jessica, and we learn her mum Diane (Candice Coke) was a member of the flock, before their dad saved them. Many moons later, John Malum – who, we’re told, hadn’t aged a day – caught up with them: sparking, presumably, the chain of events culminating in the movie’s cold open sequence.

Here’s when the movie stops being super movie-like and starts playing out like a first-person shooter. The hobo emerges for one last hurrah – except now, you know, he’s, ah, walking on little goat legs – before Jessica guns him down.

Grip on reality sufficiently loosened, our rookie cop – now seeing cult members flitting in and out of the station’s labyrinthine network of rooms unchecked – starts shooting. We get some gratuitous, low-budget gore that makes little sense for the story (Jessica runs, for example, into Valerie Loo’s Anna – one of the original three Malum targets her dad saved – hanging by her neck in a cell; the noose tightens, of its own accord, until poor Anna’s eyeball pops out of its socket), but not much else. Jessica continues on, shooting the place’s new cult-y denizens up indiscriminately.

Ostensibly, what’s happening is that cult members have invaded the station, and are – through an array of means supernatural and otherwise – executing their hostages. They’re also terrorising Jessica: not necessarily attacking her outright, but more running around being creepy and all that.

Malum ratchets up the violence – though not so much tension – as the whole affair degenerates into a frenzied, frothing mass of murder and malevolence. Cult members cackle creepily, finishing off the last of the hostages.

Here, the film’s denouement begins, and – after a whole movie’s worth of talking around the subject – the cult’s sinister motivations are revealed.

That scene we got of the Malum flock cooing over baby Jessica? Well, it turns out they were marking her, all that time ago, to one day be Malum’s ‘queen’.

Jessica arrives in a room where the cult are gathered, arranged around a throne marked with that pentagram-like symbol daubed above it. On it sits a masked figure, which Jessica rips off to reveal Malum – albeit a wizened, horribly aged version with grey skin, sharp teeth, and rheumy orange eyes (if you've seen 2023's Talk to Me, the effects here are similar to the undead ghouls that haunt Mia and friends; if you haven't, get on it!). He snarls at her. Next, we get a tracking shot of a crowd of the cult members – including two of the cops we saw shot dead by Will at the beginning – parting as what we can only assume is the Temple Baron (portrayed by Ben Kacsandi) steps forward.

The TB turns out to be a Pumpkinhead-type creature with an exposed ribcage and a five-pointed face shaped like the star symbol we’ve been seeing for the last 84 minutes. Zombified Malum watches on. “Your spirit will feed the demon” the crowd crows. Whether it feeds or not is uncertain, because what happens is the Baron’s face peels off and attaches itself to Jessica’s. Gotta say, the creature work is pretty neat, here – it’s just a bit of a shame the story isn’t as elevated as the effects.

Post-face transplant, we don’t see Jessica writhing around on the floor, or screaming – instead, we’re transported, without transition, to a hallway with her as she faces down the demon. It smiles evilly. She shoots it, it goes down, and – as it does – it’s as if a veil is lifted. That demon was Diane, Jessica’s mom, and she’s just gunned her down.

Diane dies in a weeping Jessica’s arms as the members of the cult (Price and Hudson included) point and laugh.

This was probably the most unsettling point in the movie, for me – this crowd of cackling cult followers crowding the hallway and giggling like school kids in the puddles of viscera. Against this backdrop of taunting onlookers, repeating the police code of ethics like a mantra, Jessica follows the final, fatal footstep of her father, and shoots herself in the head.

A bloodied Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) stares despondently into the middle distance in Malum 2023

It's been a rough night for Grace from Skins.

The final few frames, show the cult dragging Jessica’s body, as a flashback voiceover from a captive Malum explains his plans to “capture [his] queen” – and that their “union will strip the veil and call upon the others”. Our last shot of Jessica’s first shift shows her lifeless body tied to the throne next to the seated Malum/Temple Baron/Low God (for all intents and purposes, these monikers are interchangeable) when she suddenly wakes, screaming her way into what can only be assumed is a profoundly painful consciousness as the credits roll.

Malum (2023) Ending Explained. What happened to Jessica?

So – what happened at the end of Malum?

Long story short, the taunting of the cult – combined with the way they were warping Jessica’s reality inside the station, causing her to inadvertently murder her mother – pushed her to suicide. Jessica was then resurrected into the cult into what we can only assume is a kind of undead half-life.

We’ve already seen this happen to Malum’s victims: Officers O’Brien (Mary O’Neil) and Coleman (Angel Ray), two of the cops shot down in Will’s rampage, are shown as members, or perhaps slaves, of the cult; at one point walking around on their hands and knees, with what looks like intestines wrapped around their necks).

Given their strange behaviour throughout the film, we can also assume that Officers Price and Hudson – despite not seeing them dead at the beginning of the film – were also Will’s victims, and have now been resurrected into whatever kind of zombie-like servitude the Malum flock specialises in.

The voiceover we get from Malum as Jessica’s body is dragged to the throne room means we can also assume that this ritual – Jessica’s crowning as Malum’s queen – will bring about the arrival of some additional kind of cosmic or unearthly beings (or, as he puts it, “call upon the others”). The ultimate schemings of the cult are unknown, though. World domination? The creation of a hell-like reality on earth? We can only speculate.

Through flashbacks, it’s also revealed that, despite his (and his wife’s) involvement in the Malum cult, when Will saved those three girls, it stopped some kind of preliminary ritual: that, if completed, would lead to Jessica’s sacrifice. Unable or unwilling to have this happen to his daughter, Will saved the girls – although, as we saw, this merely delayed the inevitable. Malum returned, killing himself and his followers inside the station, and somehow inducing Will to the mass murder/suicide we’re treated to at the movie’s outset.

How did the members of the Malum cult come back, though – if they were dead?

Well, we’ve already witnessed the film treat its own rules with a laissez faire approach; and we saw those zombified members of Louisville police force making up the cult’s numbers earlier, too. Since the Malum flock don’t seem to be of human origin (hence their decrepit, decomposed faces and grey, slimy pallor when we see them later in the film; and their ability to sidestep the ageing process), Malum and his troupe were able to return – for revenge, and to complete the events that initial ritual set in motion.

Is Malum (2023) Worth Watching?

Just about. Though Malum suffers from what feels like a lack of understanding over its own mythology – which manages to feel both bloated and threadbare at the same time – Jessica Sula is watchable enough to carry this thing through.

The creature design offers a sufficiently cool counterbalance to the undercooked special effects. And the film’s tension-packed final 10 minutes mostly make up for a middling mid-section, and a plot which lacks the thematic depth or cleverness to pave over the cracks of its convoluted, confusing storyline. It’s a tame effort that falls short of the pantheon of B- (or even, to be honest C-) Movie greatness. But as a reasonably entertaining pastime for horror fans, it’s worth an hour and a half of your time.

Terror-meter: 4.3/10

Malum (2023) FAQs

When did Malum come out?

Malum had a limited theatrical release in the US, when it came out on March 31, 2023. It was released on VOD services on May 16, 2023.

Is Malum a remake of Last Shift?

Malum is a remake – not direct, but more of a re-envisioning – of Anthony DiBlasi’s 2014 film, Last Shift. It doubles down on its predecessor’s gore, while keeping the bare bones of the story very similar – with a bigger budget enabling Malum more of a creative licence when it comes to special effects.

Look out for my Last Shift (2014) review – coming soon!

What is the story behind Malum?

Malum follows rookie cop Jessica Loren (Jessica Sula) on her first shift as a police officer in a decommissioned station in Louisville, Kentucky, where her father committed mass murder/suicide one year ago. During a long night, Jessica must face down both the figurative demons of her family’s past, as well as those of quite the literal variety – as she goes toe to toe with the cult of the evil, eponymous Malum.

What city was Malum shot in?

Malum was shot on location in Louisville, Kentucky, between August and September 2022.

Is Malum a good movie?

Malum’s special effects and kinetic, blood-soaked final scenes just about offset its meandering, convoluted storyline, which – despite the lack of character development, or any sort of emotional heartbeat at the centre of the narrative – should be enough to satisfy most devoted gore-hounds. (For real gore-lovers, though, you can't look past Peter Jackson's Braindead – also released under the title Dead Alive. So explore my detailed Braindead (1992) review and summary for a detailed deep dive into a pure cult classic!)

What other recent horror like malum can I check out?

If you're after something with a little more story and emotional resonance than Malum – and that dials down on the blood and guts a fair bit – Brooklyn 45 (2023) is a good one to check out. It came out on 9 June 2023, less than a month after Malum, and I loved it.

To find out whether it's right for you, check out my Brooklyn 45 (2023) review.

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