DVD Review: Michael Biehn’s The Victim (2011)
Review by Ben Bussey
Amongst the many various cast and crew anecdotes on the extras of The Victim, one stands out as particularly amusing/faintly disturbing (funny how often those two overlap): actor Ryan Honey recounts a key scene in which – spoiler alert, I guess – his character had to choke out that of his leading man and director Michael Biehn. As they were struggling to make it convincing, Biehn told Honey (against the wishes of the stunt coordinator) to just choke him for real, and he’d tap out when he couldn’t take any more. Alas, Biehn didn’t quite tap out in time, and wound up blacking out. Honey was left in the peculiar situation of being determined to get the best shot possible, but not wanting to almost kill a man he had idolised since he was a kid.
In a sense, that isn’t too far from the position I find myself in after being called on to review The Victim. Not unlike Honey, and I should think anyone born after 1970, Biehn was a childhood hero of mine. I mean, he was Kyle Reese and Corporal Hicks, for crying out loud. Even in the sadly numerous films which were less worthy of his talents (Navy SEALS, anyone?), he’s never been less than a formidable screen presence, and recent years have seen something of a resurgence in his career with the likes of Planet Terror and The Divide (the latter of which I’ve still yet to see, to my regret). Naturally, having long admired the man as an actor, I’m rooting for him to be every bit as badass as a writer-director. That being the case, it’s hard for me to confess that The Victim didn’t exactly set my world alight. It’s not a bad film by any means, but there’s nothing too great about it either. It’s one of those films that just kind of… is.
As well as handling script and direction, Biehn takes the lead as an anonymous loner named – funnily enough – Kyle. His tranquil, hermit-like existence in a woodland cabin is rudely interrupted when Annie (Jennifer Blanc) shows up at his door screaming for help. An exotic dancer from the nearby town, she and her best friend/co-worker Mary (Danielle Harris) had been out in the woods partying with a couple of dirty cops (Honey and Denny Kirkwood). Unfortunately, things seem to have gone a little sour, as Annie declares that Mary is dead and the cops are out to get her too. But when two strangers are so suddenly thrust together, can one necessarily trust the other?
The Victim has been sold pretty heavily as a neo-grindhouse flick, even going so far as to name its official website www.grindhousethevictim.com. Perhaps this association was inevitable given Biehn’s connection to the Tarantino/Rodriguez cause célèbre (lest we forget, he also popped up in Eli Roth’s fake trailer Thanksgiving as well as Planet Terror), and Biehn also credits Rodriguez as his greatest inspiration in making this film. However, The Victim is by no means another Bitch Slap or Hobo With A Shotgun (no bad thing in my book). Outside of a somewhat Fincher-esque opening credits sequence, an unexpectedly eclectic soundtrack and a bit of digital flourish that signals the occasional flashback scene, the photography and editing are pretty straightfoward and tasteful. And, on the whole, the content reflects this. Dialogue is largely emphasised, and given the small cast list and limited locations the whole thing has an air of stage play about it, which certainly isn’t a problem given the overall strength of the performances. It’s almost as though The Victim only remembers every so often that it’s meant to be grindhouse, and so throws in a bit of violence and sex once every fifteen minutes or so, most of it naturally gratuitous and extreme (as of yet the film has not recieved its official BBFC certificate, and I’ll be a bit surprised if it’s the 15 predicted in the DVD cover art pictured above).
So just what are The Victim’s real problem areas? Well… truth be told, there aren’t many. We might complain that Jennifer Blanc and Danielle Harris are given nothing to do but act out crude feminine cliches, but that would be a tad self-defeating given the film’s exploitation leanings, and it’s not as if Biehn’s potentially deranged woodsman and Honey and Kirkwood’s sleazy cops are any less cliched representations of movie masculinity. So there isn’t much to complain about, exactly. This is just one of those instances in which, despite everyone’s best efforts, the end result just feels a bit nondescript, inconsequential and forgettable. You may well have a perfectly good time when you’re watching it, but I doubt you’ll have much to say about it afterwards, except perhaps how intimidatingly ripped Biehn still is in his fifties, and how at ease he is with filming his real-life spouse Blanc in the nude. Still, it does make a refreshing change to see this kind of old-school exploitation set-up played largely straight, rather than drowned in irony and artifice as so many films of this ilk tend to be. Whether The Victim points toward an illustrious future behind the camera for Biehn, who can say, but it certainly does nothing to tarnish his existing reputation.
The Victim will receive its UK premiere at FrightFest 2012. It also has a limited US cinema release at the end of August, before hitting Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray on 18th September and Region 2 on the 24th, from Anchor Bay.