The Victim Review
Whilst one might anticipate a filmmaker to improve over the course of his (or her) early output, Monthon Arayangkoon's second feature film, The Victim, proves substantially more proficient and polished than his uneven third, The House, and despite its shortcomings, there's a potent enough blend of slick horror, careful characterisation, and occasional murky humour in his over ambitious yet entertaining film. The basic plot premise is an intriguing one; young Ting is desperate to secure an acting career, and is delighted when she is offered a job taking a lead role in crime reconstructions. Her newly found small scale fame begins to lose its glow when she takes a role playing the deceased Meen, a former Miss Thailand contestant who was brutally murdered.
The casual or occasional horror fan may find that The Victim revels too much in its shameless approach to unfolding this story, for this is horror for those who enjoy immersing their senses in horror; as the film progresses, Arayangkoon demonstrates some flair for ambitious set pieces, creepy spirit visitations, and uses some imaginative techniques to document Ting's descent into a hell so typical of Far East horror, where the borders between the living and the spirits become increasingly blurred.
Yet despite this headfirst dive into unashamed horror visuals, to write the other elements of the film off would be unfair. Arayangkoon takes great care to dovetail the growing presence of horror into the evolution of Ting as she enthusiastically develops her acting skills for the increasingly important roles she is given. Some of these sequences are depicted with a certain snappy stylishness, as the young actress works at getting to grips with the characters she has to play, with her first performance as Meen proving especially hypnotic. And other such scenes are almost touching, with an early scene capturing Ting dancing gently in her room with a silent guide proving especially delicate. Additionally, Arayangkoon orchestrates some early moments which wade into giddy depths of black humour, and up until the halfway mark, prospects for The Victim are looking rather promising.
Alas, at this crucial point in the film's evolution, the plot takes a sudden diversion, and ultimately this story weaves, wanders, and lurches into the most acute angles, tying itself up in an enormously overambitious knot. The central problem here, without inadvertently giving away a key plot development, is that our attachment to the characters we have grown to like is disrupted, and after this it's difficult to feel for them in the way we have until this point. Not only does the jagged unravelling plot lend some level of confusion and a sense of disconnect, but it also loses fluidity, with the film transforming into a set of loosely connected set pieces, rather than a living, breathing story which we feel fully engaged with.
This lack of engagement does not reflect badly upon the performance of the lead, however, who breathes real life into her character. Arayangkoon certainly knows how to select a powerful female presence; The House featured the talented Intira Jaroenpura, and The Victim features a similarly absorbing female lead in the shape of Pitchanart Sakakorn, who delivers a solid performance and creates a character for whom we have affection and sympathy.
The Victim is likely to have fairly limited appeal, thanks to its focus on copious horror set-pieces, and a wandering plot which is liable to cause more frustration than intrigue, but for those who like Far East (and especially Thai) horror, this still represents solid enough viewing.
I must confess to having berated MVM somewhat for their recent release of Monthon Arayangkoon's next film, the 2007 horror The House, because of their misleading cover art. I felt that they had 'Westernised' the cover art by replacing the Thai leading female with a Western equivalent, and were presenting the Thai horror film as a generic American haunted house horror flick. I'm pleased to report that their release of The Victim eschews this approach and depicts a far more representative picture of a Thai woman on the cover. The artwork appears to be a coloured version of that which appeared on some earlier Far Eastern releases, including a copy I managed to pick up a few years ago via a Far East outlet on Video CD format. Unfortunately, the Video CD was, perhaps inevitably, of a particularly low quality, and I wasn't prepared to watch the film in such a substandard manner. Subsequently, I was delighted to read that MVM, who haven't been responsible for releasing some of the most compelling films in the industry, have followed up their release of The House with Arayangkoon's The Victim, and if they continue to work hard at delivering better niche films to hungry audiences, they may be able to establish a higher quality brand image then they currently carry.
Back to the current release; MVM release The Victim on a region 2 encoded DVD for European audiences. The transfer actually improves upon my slightly lowered expectations, with the image proving reasonably consistent and clean throughout. The definition isn't perfect, but in the scenes with a good balance of light, the colours are solid without being vibrant, and the accuracy seems strong, although you should expect a level of anti-aliasing where colours aren't created cleanly. In the brighter scenes there's a slight hint of over-saturation, but it's the darker scenes which let the side down, with definition suffering and the level of grain increasing considerably. Overall though, the transfer is actually a pleasant surprise, given the fact that this is a modest Thai film from 2006 presented on DVD via MVM.
There are English subtitles which can be toggled on and off. The subtitles prove clear enough and I didn't spot any major errors.
Audio is delivered in Thai 2.0 stereo. The soundtrack is clean enough with well controlled levels, and the tonal balance is acceptable. My only complaint (aside from the fact we don't get a 5.1 soundtrack) is that the high and low ends are somewhat flattened, with the bulk of the sound coming from the middle, which can have a less lively and slightly harsh affect.
There are no extras with this release, not even a solitary trailer.
MVM acquit themselves without too much shame with a decent though not overwhelming transfer of Monthon Arayangkoon's initially promising horror. There are plenty of impressive set pieces for horror purists to revel in, though Arayangkoon eventually ties the film up in knots with lumbering plot twists and excessive CGI.