SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains massive spoilers for Malignant. If you have not yet seen the film, continue reading at your own risk!
James Wan has been consistently scaring and surprising audiences ever since the start of his career. It all began when Tobin Bell’s presumed-dead John Kramer got up off the bathroom floor at the end of Saw, and since then the director has impressed us with big shocks at the end of films like Dead Silence, Insidious, and The Conjuring 2. It’s become a part of what we expect from Wan’s work – though even that expectation wasn’t enough to totally prepare us for what unfolds in the third act of his latest movie, Malignant.
The secrets and twists in the new release have been kept well-hidden for months, with enigmatic marketing working to hide key details of the plot – but now the film is playing in theaters and on HBO Max, and movie-goers/streamers are experiencing one hell of a cinematic punch. Given the complexity of the way things play out in the Malignant ending, we figured we would put together this guide to help explain all of the details, so (assuming you’ve already seen it) let’s do a quick recap of what actually happens in the final scenes of the feature:
What Happens At The End Of Malignant
The beginning of the end in Malignant arguably starts with the race to the hospital where Serena May (Jean Louisa Kelly) remains unconscious following her semi-successful kidnapping escape attempt. Gabriel (Annabelle Wallis/Marina Mazepa) makes his way there after having killed just about everybody in the local police precinct; Det. Kekoa Shaw (George Young) pursues him; and Sydney (Maddie Hasson) heads over after having learned the horrible truth about Madison’s past at the research hospital.
The three characters converge in Serena May’s room, and it doesn’t take long for Gabriel to gain the upper hand. Shaw is taken out of the equation thanks to Gabriel’s dagger, and Sydney gets crushed against a wall by a thrown bed. Sydney pleads that Madison fight back against her monstrous twin, revealing the truth about Madison’s miscarriages – but it seems to be for naught. Gabriel shoots Sydney in the head, and then completes his mission by murdering Serena May.
Or does he? Rather than the villain being triumphant, Gabriel only thinks that he has won. Instead, it is shown that Madison has successfully turned the tables on him and has started to manipulate his mind just as he did to her for many years. Finally in control, Madison dominates Gabriel, and he disappears back into her head.
At the very end, Madison talks with her sister and reflects that her quest for a blood connection was unnecessary, as Sydney is a true sister, and they are comforted by the fact that Gabriel seems to be gone. That last bit is called into question, however, as a flickering bulb suggests he isn’t gone for good.
Who Or What Is Gabriel?
Throughout Malignant it seems like Madison is being haunted by a malcontent and murderous monster from her past, and that turns out to be true – but what isn’t revealed until the third act of the film is that the killer is sharing the protagonist’s body (and it’s not just a cliché case of dissociative identity disorder). Gabriel isn’t actually another person, but instead a parasitic twin attached to Madison’s back who has developed supernatural abilities and has lain dormant for years regaining strength and waiting for a proper moment to return.
Doctors spent years working with Madison and Gabriel at the research hospital trying to forge a healthy relationship between them, but that proved impossible as Gabriel’s inherent malevolence ostensibly poisoned Madison’s mind, and he would manipulate her so that she would do terrible things. Seeing no route to real progress, Dr. Florence Weaver eventually made the call to excise the malignancy from the innocent young girl – or as she specifically puts it, “cuts out the cancer.”
When Madison/Gabriel was born, the latter was born with his own arms (which stuck out of the former’s back), and those were surgically removed. What existed of Gabriel’s head was also cut away, and whatever remained was stitched up inside Madison’s skull. This didn’t eliminate his presence, as he would still silently communicate with the young girl, but over time he faded to the background.
After many years, what changed to allows Gabriel’s return were two things, both tied to Madison’s relationship with her abusive husband, Derek. When Madison would get pregnant, the reason she had her miscarriages was because Gabriel was feeding on the fetuses so that he could gain strength. What then allows him to make a full comeback is when Derek slams his wife’s head against the wall, causing a crack in her skull. It’s through this small opening that the parasitic twin gets a second life.
As for the reason why Madison both is and isn’t aware of her dark half, the answer rests in Gabriel’s ability to manipulate her visual cortex. He is able to make her think that she is going about her normal life by projecting what are essentially hallucinations, and meanwhile he takes complete control of her body to do his bidding. He did this when Madison was a kid and her adopted mother was pregnant with Sydney (he is exceptionally jealous and doesn’t like attention being taken away from him), and he does it while enacting revenge against those who tried to destroy him at the research hospital.
The reason why Madison has her bouts of paralysis and is sometimes about to witness Gabriel do what he does is because his power isn’t at full strength. When the veil slips, she can gain a certain understanding of what is happening around her, but she evidently processes it as an outsider.
Fortunately, what seems to be the key to stopping Gabriel is having total awareness of him. When Madison understands how she has been manipulated, she is able to successfully turn the tables on him, and put an end to his reign of terror. But will it last forever?
Could Gabriel Potentially Return?
James Wan has a spectacular knack for spawning franchises – which is an irony given his passion for telling new stories and his antipathy towards repeating himself. Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring all turned out to be series starters thanks to their individual success, and while we presently have no idea if a Malignant 2 is in the cards, history suggests that it could be. What’s more, it’s also hard not to notice that the new movie ends with a minor hint that Gabriel isn’t totally down for the count.
After decades of being a victim and a puppet to her parasitic twin, Madison gains the upper hand against Gabriel and manipulates him the way he manipulated her for years… but that bulb flickering right before the credits roll in Malignant suggests that the work of the devilish monster isn’t done. It’s never fully explained in the movie how Gabriel is able to affect electricity and communicate through speakers, but there is also no questioning that he can, and the lamp at the very end of the film seems to be a clear indication that he is not gone.
If Gabriel does eventually return, presumably Madison would be ready for him, and now she has the benefit of knowing how to control him – so it is a bit hard to say what could be covered in a sequel story. We’ll just have to wait and see if anything ultimately develops, or if Malignant will join Dead Silence and Death Sentence as James Wan films that simply exist independently and aren’t part of a larger series.
Malignant is now both playing in theaters and is available to stream on HBO Max for the first 31 days after its release.
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.