[Review] ‘The Medium’ goes to very dark places

Weary of horror after his successful movies Shutter and Alone, Thai filmmaker Banjong Pisanthanakun finally returns to the genre that made him famous. This time, however, he is directing solo after working alongside Parkpoom Wongpoom for a number of years. What makes Pisanthanakun’s new film so auspicious is the inclusion of Na Hong-jin, whose South Korean hit The Wailing took the world by storm not too long ago. Working only as a writer and producer this time around, Na’s fingerprints are still all over this collaboration. The Medium is an utterly unsettling blend of folk religion and mysticism.

…an utterly unsettling blend of folk religion and mysticism

The Medium follows a filmmaking crew as they document a shaman named Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) in the largest region of Thailand called Isan. Although all the women in her family have apparently been possessed by a benevolent spirit called Ba Yan, Nim’s sister Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) rejected the calling and turned to Christianity. The sisters soon suspect Noi’s daughter Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) is the next in line to inherit Ba Yan, but her disturbing behavior suggests something else has inhabited her body and seized control of her mind. Something evil. What could have been a celebration will now be a desperate plea for survival.

The Medium utilizes the found-footage format still so popular after all these years. Luckily for those viewers who cannot stomach the shaky-cam effect, this is for the most part shot more like District 9 than The Blair Witch Project. After all, this is intended to look like a legitimate documentary. As the movie goes on, though, there are bouts of ‘night vision’ mode. These hairier moments may seem like a director finally cashing in on a divisive gimmick, but the found-footage style — when used properly and to its fullest potential — is a complete asset. The technique can well emphasize the creepiness that comes from the breakdown of reality, as well as deliver real-time terror. Pisanthanakun has a solid grip on the device as he sprinkles the film’s back half with unnerving instants.

“…you will undoubtedly have to look away”

From a glance, The Medium is a safe yet eerie look at another region’s folklore and spiritualism. The vistas are comely and soothing, and Nim is an approachable character. As the movie goes on, the story takes a turn. What was thought to be a standard possession narrative ends up being a horrific display of carnage and depravity. There will be times where you will undoubtedly have to look away because things on screen are plain nasty. Further down the line, the question of “how do we come back from this?” will probably come up as well.

Hesitant viewers will misguidedly dismiss The Medium as something mundane, bloated, or maybe even boring. For those still on the fence about watching, they need to take the plunge. The best preparation requires understanding this is more of a twisted journey than a straight road, and the film will gradually become more and more appalling. This account of a family torn apart by false gods, shaky faiths, and incredible evils will haunt the eyes and mind long after the camera stops recording.

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