GORE IN THE STORE
THE MEDIUM ****
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun.
Starring Sawanee Utoomma, Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sirani Yankittikan.
Horror, Thailand, 130 minutes.
Streaming on Shudder from 14th October
This entry in the burgeoning Thailand horror scene uses the found footage format to tell the tale of a shaman dealing with a horrifying case of possession in her own family. Framed as a documentary following Nim, a medium who is called upon by the residents of the small village where she lives to aid in all matters spiritual. Nim claims to be possessed by the spirit of Bayan, an ancestral god. Legend has it that Bayan has been residing within the women in Nim’s family for many generations. Originally Bayan was to reside within Nim’s sister Noi, who had other plans and turned to Christianity, therefore leaving Nim to channel the ancient god.
At a funeral for Noi’s husband, Nim realises that her niece Mink is behaving strangely and out of character, flipping from childlike playing to shockingly aggressive behaviour at a moments notice. The situation soon deteriorates further forcing the reluctant Noi to ask for help from Nim and Bayan.
As stories and plots go THE MEDIUM does not try anything new but thanks to its unfamiliar, evocative and interesting setting the film manages to grip and hold the viewers attention for the majority of its lengthy running time. Over its one hundred- and thirty-minutes director Banjong Pisanthanakun and co-writer Na Hong-jin, director of the excellent South Korean horror epic THE WAILING, take their time in pacing out the storyline. Setting up the unfamiliar, to Western audiences anyway, system of belief and spirituality the found footage format works convincingly acquainting us with its many facets. As Mink’s possession takes more of a hold the story’s more disturbing elements take centre stage eventually leading to a lengthy climatic act that descends into full on terror that recalls the Spanish classic REC, still one of the high points of the found footage genre.
Pisanthanakun, director of SHUTTER, one of the mainstays of the Asia Extreme label that introduced many an Eastern horror film to Western audiences, handles the format well resulting in a couple of night vision sequences that are superbly creepy. He may succumb to those ever present and often unavoidable questions that always pop up with found footage films, mainly why would you keep filming when your life is in mortal danger (props go to the disembowelled cameraman showing real dedication to his craft here) but he otherwise delivers something fresh with familiar ingredients.
Such niggles are soon swept aside due to their scarcity and the other strengths on display here. The cast do well across the board, particularly Sawanee Utooma as the no-nonsense Nim who with the help of her spiritual passenger steps up to the supernatural challenges with next to no fear while Narilya Gulmongkolpech as her niece gives an impressively distressing performance as a victim of possession who soon goes to terrify in a much more threatening manner as we get to that impressively apocalyptic and no holds barred final act.
THE MEDIUM’s lengthy running time may do with an extra round of editing to tighten it up but putting that to the side it stands as one of the more impressive entries in both found footage and possession films in some time. With its sense of place, unfamiliar lore and no holds barred, go for broke finale it is well worth the time and investment and another entry from a country that has been making some impressive strides in the genre lately.