It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost fifteen years since Sadako crawled out of a TV set, ushering in a whole terrifying new chapter in horror, one which moved the emphasis away from graveyards and haunted houses, to everyday items such as mobile phones and videotapes. Whilst Asian filmmaking rode high on this wave of new horror, with many titles being remade in Hollywood, translating the terror to a new audience, much like the cursed video tape that was copied and passed around in the original urban myth, the image of a dark haired girl with wild staring eyes has since become a cliche and many a film falls into the trap of repeating the formulae. A sobering example is how, after the success of the Ring, Tartan banked everything on the genre with their Tartan Asia Extreme imprint and lost everything as a result. Predictability is anathema to horror, and in recent years it has been Spanish films such as The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes that have managed to tread new ground by tapping into our most primal fears.
It is with some trepidation, then, that I approach ‘new’ Thai horror film The Victim by Monthon Arayangkoon, all the more so given that it has taken six years to see an English release. At first this trepidation seems well founded and the film’s promising premise develops along fairly cheesy lines. Pitchanart Sakakorn plays Ting, a naive aspiring actress whose only experience to date has been smiling in the audience of a talk show. However, when she’s recruited by a police lieutenant to act in a series of crime reconstructions she finds she has knack for portraying young murdered women, giving such authentic portrayals (or so we are to believe) that the general public even step in to give the confused actor playing the perpetrator a good thrashing. It’s all light hearted fun until Ting decides that she has to have the role of recently murdered star Meen, who had been performing as a traditional Likae dancer in a new film when she met a violent end. Ting becomes obsessed with her character and begins investigating the circumstances of her death and practicing her movements in the very spot she was murdered: the bath tub of a seedy motel.
The film follows such predictable lines until some wholly unexpected and incredible happens (spoiler alert). During a fairly climactic scene Ting, who has now begun channelling the spirit of Meen in earnest, collapses and the film reel breaks. The film’s crew steps in, and the whole affair, everything we have witnessed up to that point, is revealed to be the product of a student filmmaker named Shane. From then on the quality of the film improves immensely, revealing the earlier part to be a parody of schlocky, juvenile horror. In one clever scene the editor takes Shane through all of the scenes involving ghosts, and demonstrates that May (for that is the name of the actress playing Ting, who is in turn playing Meen) is really looking at a ghostly apparition in the background, rather than the fake ghost supplied by the film’s make up department. Shane, rather ill-advisedly, decides to exploit this supernatural development for the good of the film, rather than pulling the plug and running for the hills.
This rupture of the fourth wall is a clever conceit, and one which is genuinely unsettling as it tricks you into thinking that what you’re now seeing is real. It’s a risk though, as it requires the audience to sit through a rather lengthy fake intro without turning off the film. The film now shifts from supernatural crime drama to focusing on the film crew freaking the fuck out as May starts to manifest all the symptoms of being possessed by a vengeful spirit (amnesia, multiple personality and a trail of bloody destruction). It’s a shame that the latter part of the film doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the inventive middle section, and begins to veer all too far into the territory of a schlocky horror, which the earlier part of the film seemed to be mocking. Frankly the dodgy special effects of a perambulating Likae dancer doesn’t help, and the production would have benefited more from having the ghost heard but not seen. Although the result is an uneven experience overall, there’s definitely some neat ideas here that make The Victim worth a watch, if not a genre high point such as the Pang brothers possession classic The Eye, which seems to have been a strong influence.
Words > Dean Bowman