DVD Review: The Victim (2006)
Review by Ben Bussey
Mild spoilers ahead…
I’m in the curious position of being introduced to the work of filmmaker Monthon Arayangkoon in reverse order. Having first seen the Thai writer/director’s most recent film, 2007’s The House, when MVM released it to DVD recently, it now falls upon me to assess his sophomore effort, 2006’s The Victim (AKA Phii khon pen). Incidentally, I see that his first film, 2004’s Garuda, is a daikaiju, and as I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one of those from Thailand I’d definitely be curious to see that; certainly more curious than I was approaching The Victim. Having been underwhelmed by Arayangkoon’s more recent take on the ghost story, I should hope I can be forgiven for having even lower expectations of his earlier venture into essentially the same territory. As it turns out, The Victim is, to its credit, a more inventive ghost story, with an intriguing premise and some unforeseen twists. Even so, like The House it wrings the set-up dry of juice long before the credits roll, meaning that what might have been a perfectly agreeable, atmospheric chiller winds up drowning in its own tedium.
It starts out like this: young wannabe actress Ting (Pitchanart Sakakorn) is taking drama classes, learning about getting into character, finding her motivation and all that crap. A rather fortuitous mention of this tidbit within earshot of local police Lieutenant Te (Kiradej Ketakinta) lands her a job in crime scene re-enactments for the media. Rapes, muggings, murders: every young starlet’s dream, really. Anxious for the work but also wary of insulting the recently departed, Ting approaches each new ‘role’ with the utmost seriousness and respect, even saying a prayer and lighting incense for the victims after every shoot. You wouldn’t think such jobs would be hotly contended, but Ting is especially eager to land one specific role: that of recently murdered movie star Meen (Apasiri Nitibhon). However, it seems Ting’s dedication to her work is having unexpected side-effects: the ghosts of those she has portrayed are starting to contact her from the other side. And when she finally gets her, ahem, dream role of Meen, things are only going to get weirder.
So far, not so bad; an actress being haunted by the characters she plays is a nice idea, and makes for a few reasonably eerie sequences which don’t rely too heavily on the prevalent 2000s J-horror model. Unfortunately, everything around it falls rather flat, not least the central protagonist. The thing about Ting is – well – she’s crap. There’s always a question mark watching a film in a foreign language as to how much might be lost in translation, but Sakakorn comes off really feeble and unconvincing. This being the case, her rise to success as an actress is very hard to swallow indeed; we have multiple instances of fellow actors and onlookers getting uncontrollably emotional at her performances, which I challenge anyone not to burst out laughing at. Again, maybe I’m losing something in translation, maybe Arayangkoon intended these scenes to be funny, but that’s not the impression I get. To use what is rarely a flattering point of reference, I was reminded of Showgirls; how everyone keeps going on about what how much amazing natural dancing ability Elizabeth Berkley has, but when we actually see her doing it she looks like a giraffe having an epileptic fit.
The suspense sequences have much the same problem as Ting: they never know when enough is enough. Okay, it’s relatively creepy the first time you see someone walk alone down a dark, empty, silent corridor, their footsteps echoing around the tiled walls, whilst indistinct shapes lurk in the shadows waiting to reach out and grab; but keep doing the same schtick over and over and it’s going to get tiresome. It’s the same mistake Arayangkoon would make again in The House. I haven’t done the math but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least fifteen minutes of screentime in both films consisted of nothing more than people walking along hallways in silence. I guess it’s a post-Sixth Sense, less-is-more philosophy in action, and a good representation of how that shit got old fast.
Speaking of Sixth Sense, one thing I’ve avoided mentioning thus far is that The Victim has a fairly dramatic twist in the tale. As I generally prefer to avoid major spoilers, I’m not going to give the game away here, but it’s one of From Dusk Till Dawn or Martyrs proportions; not in the sense that it involves vampires or perpetual torture, but that it sees the film change direction in a sudden way, which you’re unlikely to see coming. In the case of The Victim, though, whilst the twist may in concept change everything, in practice it changes nothing. The context is different, but the style and framework is absolutely the same, and it does very little to relieve the boredom.
Based on what I’ve seen, Monthon Arayangkoon is a director with a strong stylistic eye but not the strongest dramatic judgement, yet clearly with the potential to produce really good work. However, it would seem since The House that he’s moved away from writing and directing, his most recent work having been as producer on a couple of Thai rom-coms. Part of me says that’s no big loss; the rest of me feels disappointed for what might have been. Two good-looking, half-decent horror movies is better than some filmmakers manage, and if he could only learn to write decent female protagonists and realise that long, uneventful silences do not automatically create suspense, there might be a good film in him yet. Assuming he didn’t peak with Garuda, of course.
The Victim is released to Region 2 DVD on 6th August, from MVM.