Saturday, February 2, 2008

THE VICTIM Movie Review


When struggling actress Ting is asked by the police to act as the victim in a string of police reenactments, Ting is at first worried that doing so may upset the spirits of those that she is to impersonate. But after an assurance by the police lieutenant that this is the right thing to do, she readily agrees. Soon Ting finds local celebrity for her ability to get inside the victim's personality, and she becomes more obsessed with doing research for her next role.

Ting's desire to portray the dead victims reaches its summit when a reenactment for the case of the brutally murdered Meen, who was a former Miss Thailand, is set up. Ting studies Meen's speech patern, her way of walking, and the way she dances. Ting even goes so far as to visit the alleged scene of the crime to truly try to understand her "character". But this is when Ting begins to feel an eerie presence surrounding her, and begins to see flashes of Meen's face, and even thinks that Meen is trying to physically direct her so that Ting can impersonate her better. But is it Meen trying to help in order to solve her murder, or is there a sinister ulterior motive to her interactions with Ting?

As with many supernatural Thai films, THE VICTIM taps into the Buddhist beliefs which hold a religious majority over the country for its inspiration in respecting spirits and fearing their wrath should the living ever anger them. Many of the Thai citizens take ghosts and spirits as matter of fact of life, even going so far as to present information given by ghosts as print and television worthy, and firmly believing the art of spirit photography whereby ghosts' images can be captures on film. Within these contexts, the prevalent fear of disrespecting the deceased by not honoring them with truthful representation offers the springboard from which director Monthon Arayangkoon leaps from.

Although Arayangkoon has only made one movie previous to this, the monster film GARUDA, he shows an eagerness to create a unique tale that will not only appeal to his native country but also be accessible to an international market. As with GARUDA, THE VICTIM certainly is at its most enjoyable for those that have a more thorough knowledge of Thai superstition and legends in general, and Arayangkoon wastes no time in exposition trying to get any outsiders up to speed. However, there are plenty enough spooks and scares that will elicit universal fears in newcomers to Buddhism, and at no time does anything get too spiritually "technical" to confuse or put off the general viewer.

The spooks and scares, by the way, are quite effective. While nothing is terribly groundbreaking in terms of what Arayangkoon employs, which is all pretty standard double imagery and atmosphere sounds and shadows, how he uses it gets right underneath your skin and stays there festering. And in many cases, it is the reactions of the characters on screen that evoke the true terror, rather than the build up. These are people who are believe without a shadow of a doubt that there are ghosts, and they are well aware of the consequences for disturbing them. There are no scenes in which one person tries to persuade another they a spirit. If they say they did, the response is not "you're crazy" the response is a wholehearted "well what do we do now?"

While Arayangkoon does resort to a few loud bang jump scares, the goosebumps are at their most effective during several key sequences that are sets up with lead actress Pitchanart Sakakorn. In perhaps the standout sequence of the movie, she is engulfed by a sea of souls, while a repeating motif of her dancing warns that her actions are not those of her own. Sakakorn has spent most of her young acting career in Thai horror, and with a face that was made to look fearful and terrorized, it is her slow realization that she is being possessed and there doesn't seem to be anything she can do to stop it will leave the hairs on the back of your neck standing.

THE VICTIM does take one huge leap of faith with its audience, and that is its make-it-or-brake-it twist which comes halfway through the film. It is a jarring sudden turn that practically restarts the entire movie and makes you question everything that you've seen up to that point. While the twist essentially slams the brakes hard and then has to accelerate back to cruising speed, Arayangkoon holds everything together while he makes you evaluate what has happened up until then as he dissects information and provides new insights before delivering a thoroughly creepy and satisfying ending.

Released under the Asia Extreme genre arm of Tartan Video, THE VICTIM is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer with its original Thai dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 along with English and Spanish subtitles. Among the special features is a curious featurette which has been dubbed a "Making Of" but in reality is a much more interesting documentary about ghosts that were supposedly on the set. Much like in the actual movie, still shots of footage are purported to show faces in the shadows as scene were being photographed, while filmmakers go on record saying they are being followed by spirits. Between the ominous voiceover and grainy footage, this is almost as creepy as the movie itself. The DVD is rounded out with Tartan's usual suspects, including the original trailer for THE VICTIM, previews for other Tartan releases, and the always thrilling Asia Extreme promo reel.


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