NEW YORK (CNS) — Considered artistically, director James Wan's "Malignant" (Warner Bros.) initially registers as a dreary horror tale but later perks up to become creatively creepy. As it does so, however, any sense of restraint with regard to the gore factor involved in its proceedings is abandoned and the bloodletting goes off the charts in a climactic rampage of slicing, dicing and dismemberment.

Part of the prevailing gloom at the start has to do with the plight of our troubled protagonist, Madison "Maddie" Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis). Haunted by a series of miscarriages her physically abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel) blames on her, pregnant Maddie's lot goes from bad to worse when a mysterious intruder murders Derek and attacks her, causing her to lose her latest baby.

But Maddie's situation then becomes downright bizarre as she inexplicably begins to witness other slayings by the same killer. By means she can't figure out, she is somehow transported, in a paralyzed trance state, to the scene of each crime.

Maddie tries to help the two police officers on the case, Detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), with their investigation. Yet, while Shaw proves sympathetic, Moss remains resolutely skeptical about Maddie's claims, even treating her account with sarcastic derision.

While it eventually succeeds in unsettling viewers, as scripted by Akela Cooper, "Malignant" falls flat when it tries to establish any emotional context, as with the relationship between Maddie and her understandably concerned sister, Sydney Lake (Maddie Hasson). In fact, some of the would-be serious dialogue is risible.

The unintended laughs, however, give way to queasiness as the body toll, exacted in ever more hideous ways, steadily mounts.

The film contains excessive gruesome violence, about a half-dozen instances each of profanity and mild-er swearing and much rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.