The Medium review: Violent possessions not for the faint of heart

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The Medium. (Still: Golden Village Pictures)
The Medium. (Still: Golden Village Pictures)

Length: 130 minutes
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Cast: Sawanee Utoomma, Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sirani Yankittikan

In theatres 12 August (Singapore)

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Medium is not for those who are faint-hearted.

This rural-set, Thai-Korean horror film has been making waves since it was featured at the 25th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival or BiFan, where it won the Bucheon Choice Award. 

Helmed by famed director Banjong Pisanthanakun, who has steered acclaimed titles like Shutter (2004), and produced by Na Hong Jin, it topped the advance box-office sales in South Korea despite a surge in pandemic cases, boosted by its success in the Bucheon Film Festival.

The Medium is brilliantly executed, combining occultism, supernatural possessions and intense gore and violence to produce a fantastic cocktail which is more bloodcurdling than jump-scare hair-raising.

Set in a sleepy village somewhere in rural Thailand, it follows the lives of Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) and her family. Nim is a shaman for the goddess Ba Yan, going on yearly pilgrimages up the mountain where the deity resides and healing the spiritual ailments of fellow villages. But Ba Yan is not a completely benevolent goddess, as we find out.

The goddess chooses only women in their family, and when Nim's niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) starts developing strange and unnatural symptoms during her father's funeral, Nim realises that Ba Yan might be attempting to transfer her divine favour to another vessel.

Mink's mother, Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) refuses Nim's help as she herself was chosen to be Ba Yan's vessel, but rejected it out of spite and the goddess's favour passed onto her younger sister Nim instead.

The Medium. (Still: Golden Village Pictures)
The Medium. (Still: Golden Village Pictures)

As time passes and Mink's symptoms grow progressively worse, Nim realises that an acceptance ceremony from the goddess would do nothing to alleviate Mink's suffering; she was a victim of a slew of violent, karmic curses as a result of her family's tyrannical past.

The film excels in foreboding red herrings, used to great effect. The misdirection sends characters on wild goose chases in desperate attempts to save Mink, who becomes more and more deranged as time passes. 

Their desolation in seeking help for their possessed daughter is only exacerbated by the isolation of the rural village that they live in, compounded by the incompetence of the local police and the general lack of any sort of available spiritual assistance. The family becomes increasingly frantic in their efforts, and Nim eventually reaches out to a spiritual mentor, Santi, who organises an elaborate exorcism ritual.

The cinematography is tight and fast paced, although being a little slow at the start. The film also gives a huge nod to the Blair Witch Project, being shot in a similar documentary style. But you might experience motion sickness as a result, when the crews run with their cameras and the jerking of the frames can be somewhat nauseating.

It also incorporates all the hallmarks of Asian horror unique to the Korean and Thai genres, with eerie music and the darkly saturated filter. 

There were some things that bugged me, for instance the camera crew, who were constantly present during the hauntings and supernatural mishaps. They seemed to prize filming the shots more than they valued their lives, and risked their lives (instead of helping the distressed family) many times over the course of the film trying to get the best shots despite the dire and obviously dangerous situations. 

I generally dislike horror films, but The Medium is one movie that brings me to the brink of being a convert. Definitely worth a watch.

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