26th Oct2021

LFF 2021: ‘The Medium’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sawanee Utoomma, Sirani Yankittikan, Yasaka Chaisorn, Boonsong Nakphoo, Arunee Wattana, Thanutphon Boonsang | Written by Banjong Pisanthanakun, Na Hong-jin |  Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun

Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter), this Thai found footage horror offers an original spin on the possession genre. Well made, superbly acted and genuinely scary, it’s one of the horror finds of the year.

Produced and co-written by Na Hong-jin (The Wailing), The Medium purports to be the work of a documentary team, who have travelled to the Isan region of Thailand in order to profile local medium Nim (Sawanee Utoomma). She claims to be possessed by the benevolent spirit of Ba Yan, a deity worshipped by the people of Isan, who brings good fortune to the region. According to Nim, the honor of being possessed by Ba Yan has been passed through successive generations of women in her family, although her older sister Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) refused to accept the spirit, leaving Nim to take her place.

Nim and Noi’s relationship is strained, but Nim offers her help when Noi’s cynical, twenty-something daughter Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) begins behaving strangely and exhibiting signs of possession. Nim initially assumes that Mink is the next intended host for Ba Yan, but as her behaviour becomes more violent and disturbing, it appears she might be possessed by a different entity altogether.

The performances are superb. Sawanee Utoomma has an inherently calming presence as Nim, and she’s unruffled in the presence of Mink’s weirdness, so the audience immediately trusts her when she says she can help. That, in turn, only makes it more terrifying when it becomes clear that Nim is out of her depth.

Sirani Yankittikan is equally good as Mink, taking the character through a multi-layered journey that begins at attractive, self-obsessed office worker and goes through several different stages, from child-like innocence to sexed-up trouble-maker to something feral and terrifying (warning: it’s best not to ask what happens to the very cute dog). To that end, it’s an impressively physical performance that’s consistently chilling in its sheer unpredictability.

Throughout The Medium (which has played extremely well in its native country), Pisanthanakun serves up effective horror scenes that borrow from other classic horrors (The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch, etc), but gives each one its own inventive little twist, so it never feels derivative. If anything, the scenes lull you into a false sense of security, because you think you know where they’re going and then they go somewhere else.

In fairness, the documentary angle doesn’t add quite as much to the story as it should, and never really has the pay-off you’re expecting. That said, it is admittedly amusing to see the camera crew continue to film even when some really bad things are happening to them. One shot in particular provokes a big laugh, in line with the film’s occasional streak of jet-black humour.

The script is filled with interesting detail, giving non-Thai audiences more than enough cultural context to understand what’s going on. It’s also surprisingly emotional – particularly in the central relationship between the sisters – and packed with great twists and turns.

On top of that, Pisanthanakun shows a real mastery of tone and pace, maintaining a compelling slow burn in the splendidly creepy, highly atmospheric first half before unleashing gore and mayhem in the second. Suffice it to say the end result is highly entertaining and The Medium is well worth seeking out.

**** 4/5

The Medium screened as part of this years London Film Festival.


Comments are closed.