Thai filmmaker Banjong Pisanthanakun’s new film “The Medium”, one of the most anticipated horror films of this year to me and many other South Korean audiences due to its South Korean co-producer Na Hong-jin (Remember “The Chaser” (2008) or “The Wailing” (2016)?), is a hollow and unpleasant geek show to say the least. The more I reflect on its many supposedly scary and intense moments, the more the movie feels vulgar, exploitative, and reprehensible in numerous aspects, and I am still regretting over wasting 2 hours of my life at last night. No, I do not mind being scared or challenged as watching those dark horror films willing to shock or repulse audiences by any means necessary, but, boy, this dreck gave me one of the most tedious and uninteresting experiences I have had during this year.
Like several recent horror films about exorcism such as “The Last Exorcism” (2010), the movie is a mix of found footage and mockumentary, and its first act begins as a standard local culture documentary on the shamanism in rural Thai areas. Mainly through a local female middled-aged shaman named Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), the movie shows and tells us a bit of what she and many other local have believed for years, and then we see how she earns her meager living via giving others some spiritual help. According to her, the women in her family have been destined to become shamans, or “mediums”, to represent a certain local god who is simply one of numerous supernatural entities out there, and we hear about how she eventually became a shaman instead of her older sister Noi (Sirani Yankittikan), who incidentally escaped to Christianity after refusing to carry their family obligation.
When Nim subsequently attends the funeral of Noi’s recently diseased husband, she and Noi remain estranged from each other, and they do not interact well much with each other as reflected by a brief moment when Noi’s only daughter Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) delivers a note from Noi, but then Nim gradually comes to sense something wrong from Mink. While she looks mostly fine on the surface, Mink has been behaving rather weirdly, and Nim later witnesses a very odd and disturbing incident from Mink during the following night.
As her niece keeps behaving weirdly day by day, Nim is convinced that her niece is experiencing something not so far from what she had a long time ago, so she tries to handle this situation for herself, but that is not welcomed much by her older sister, who adamantly refuses to believe all those shamanism stuffs in her younger sister’s spiritual world. As Mink’s circumstance becomes worse and worse, Noi tries her best to keep things under control, but, of course, she eventually begins to wonder whether she made a big mistake when she refused to carry that family obligation.
While all these and other things are happening around Nim and her family, they are constantly followed by the cameras of several crew members of the documentary in the film, who are somehow allowed to get full access to almost everything without much ethical consideration. As Mink goes through more of her inexplicable predicament, the cameras in the film stick closer to her just for capturing more disturbing happenings from her, and we accordingly get a series of uncomfortable scenes where the cameras feel more like creepy unethical voyeurs instead of objective observers. In case of a certain scene presented via closed-circuit TV cameras, it is utterly vile and unpleasant in its sleazy objectification of female body, and this only comes to remind us that the movie regards Mink as nothing but a mere object to be tormented and humiliated throughout the story.
The movie becomes a little more interesting during the middle act as Nim tries to discern what is really going on around Mink, but this part goes nowhere while casually throwing a certain taboo into the story without no particularly dramatic purpose, and we get more confused and disoriented than before. Is Mink really possessed by the ghost of someone very close to her? Are her mind and body actually filled with more than one spiritual entity? And is there really the connection between her ongoing plight and that dark history of her father’s family?
As entering its last act, the movie prepares itself for a full-throttle exorcism mode along Nim and several other main characters including one of her fellow shamans. While we surely get several disconcerting moments of demonic possession including the one involved with a very unfortunate dog (Please brace yourself if you are an animal lover, by the way), we are served with lots of typical shaky camera movements as those documentary crew members in the film keep shooting stuffs as before.
However, do all these and other things in the film really add up to, well, something enough for us to endure them all? To be frank with you, I am scratching my head on that matter while discerning more of its superficial narrative and thin characterization, which are the main reason I did not care about whatever was going on the screen. The main cast members did try as much as with their bland cardboard roles, and there are some competent aspects in the film including its effectively moody cinematography, but I kept observing the film from the distance without much care or attention during my viewing, in addition to not being so scared or challenged at all.
In conclusion, “The Medium” is a wretched genre exercise which only attempts to distinguish itself via numerous unpleasant and repulsive moments, and I was quite disappointed and depressed as I walked out of the screening room. At present, my mind is already ready to move onto other horror films which may be better than this dud, and I am sure my mind will soon forget the bad aftertaste from watching it.