Film Review: The Medium is an excruciating, blood-curdling and emotionally thrilling horror flick

The Medium tells the story of a Thai documentary team who are travelling to the region of Isan to follow the life of the local medium Nim (Sawanee Utoomma). She claims that she was possessed by the spirit of Ba Yan, a deity that the people of Isan worship and a significant presence in Nim’s family as she has been possessing the women there for generations. Being possessed by Ba Yan meant that you were chosen to be a medium for her.

She discovers that her niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech), a happy-go-lucky recruitment officer who does not believe in shamanism, has been exhibiting strange behaviours that may hint that she may be possessed. But through thorough investigation, the more the crew and Nim begin to realize that Mink may be possessed by something else entirely.

The Medium is a Thai-South Korea Pan-Asian co-production; led by the filmmakers of the acclaimed hits The Wailing (from co-writer/producer Na Hong-jin) and Shutter (from co-writer/director Banjong Pisanthanakun). The film started off in development as a sequel to The Wailing; following the shaman character but it became The Medium once the filmmakers came to realize the many striking similarities of shamanism in their native countries. With such talents collaborating, expectations are understandably high. Does The Medium live up to those expectations?

While the film lacks originality within its confines of the found-footage/mockumentary format, The Medium succeeds in delivering the punchy scares and heart-curdling suspense that audiences strive for. With its plentiful room in its long runtime (just over two hours), Pisanthanakun establishes his characters and conflicts with efficiency and ease; notably conflicting views on religion (Catholicism vs. shamanism), the place of gender roles in the world (the men in a family bloodline die in result of the consequences of their own actions while the women are always destined to be of subservience).

The main characters in the story are Nim and Mink and even within the confines of the mockumentary format, they are memorable and easy to root for because they are portrayed remarkably well by Utoomma and Gulmongkolpech. Utoomma underplays her role of Nim that she makes the audience at ease whenever she shows up because of her innate sense of control. Whenever a scary set-piece happens, her presence assures a sense of calm and it makes her a great protagonist. But Pisanthanakun and Na do not make their character arc an easy feat (as well as all the characters), the two never shy away from the brutality and darkness of the situation as they explore themes of self-harm, animal cruelty, family incest, religious self-doubt and even cannibalism.

Which goes into the fantastic performance from Gulmongkolpech. Her performance as Mink is amazingly transformative as she undergoes through many facades that come off as childlike, promiscuous, distraught, tenacious, feral and downright frightening. The physicality she undergoes must not have been easy (which consisted of weight loss, stunt choreography involving contortionism etc.) but Gulmongkolpech pulls it all off convincingly.

As for delivering the scares, the tricks are nothing new. With the use of infrared, non-diegetic sounds, handheld camerawork, copious amounts of blood and gore, recognisable moments of hysteria, elongated moments of silence followed by loud jolts etc; it does not sound all that innovative. Especially when one notices the genre aesthetics of both found-footage and mockumentary being increasingly incongruous as the film reaches the second half. But the oppressive mood, the craft behind the scares and the sympathetic characters make the scares powerfully effective.

One memorable setpiece (which is quite similar to the set-piece in The Wailing) involves a shamanism ritual that crosscuts back to the afflicted being trapped and enraged whilst it is happening. The escalation of tension is incredibly gripping and the identifiable emotions make it easy to believe and the characters would undergo such actions. It helps that the storytelling never peaks in its assured sense of pacing as the filmmakers dive down the rabbit hole as the situation gets worse and worse.

Overall, The Medium is a fantastic example of blood-curdling horror that overcomes its lack of innovation with a strong focused eye on conveying terror, wonderful lead performances, composed sense of pacing and a harsh atmosphere that will surely bring audiences on the edge of their seats. Highly recommended.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Medium is now showing exclusively on Shudder.

Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.

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