Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Medium, on Shudder

Shamanism in Southeast Asia represents a general fusion of early animist beliefs with Buddhist stylistic trappings. There are ample examples of similarly coopted pagan traditions here in the Western Hemisphere—and we have duly mined them for horror movie inspiration too. Regardless, if you think have a case of possession in Thailand, you are much more likely to consult a shaman rather than a priest (especially in the era of Benedict). Nim is such a shaman, but the supernatural incident she investigates hits much too close to home in Banjong Pisanthanakun’s The Medium (produced and co-written by Korean genre auteur Na Hong-jin), which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

Some possessions are benign, like the local goddess Ba Yan, who made Nim the village shaman when she entered her body. Originally, she chose Nim’s sister Noi, as the next in line for the matrilinear succession, but the younger sibling fought her selection and converted to Christianity. After months of struggle, Ba Yan eventually settled on Nim instead. When a mysterious ailment befalls Noi’s daughter Mink, the family automatically assumes it is Ba Yan once again attempting to possess a successor. However, as the symptoms become increasingly severe and disturbing, Nim concludes a more sinister force has latched onto her niece, mostly likely related to some of the old skeletons rattling around their family closet.

The Medium qualifies as found footage, because we see everything unfold through the cameras of a film crew shooting a documentary on Nim. However, it really feels like a doc rather than a quickie Blair Witch knock-off. Wisely, Pisanthanakun takes his time, fully and respectfully establishing the characters, isolated setting, and shamanistic beliefs. The first fifteen minutes really do not horror business per se, but from there on, he slowly builds the tension drop by agonizing drip, until it finally explodes into utter bedlam.

would indeed make a suitable companion film to Ha’s The Wailing. (Honestly, if Hwang Jung-min’s swaggering character from that film had suddenly appeared, we would have completely flipped out.) Ultimately, the gory chaos of the third act works against The Medium, but Pisanthanakun’s prior mastery of mood and foreboding still quite distinguishes it.

Sawanee Utoomma is deeply and profoundly engaging as Nim. We immediately get her status as her family’s second choice, in possession and in all things. Just as importantly, Narilya Gulmongkolpech freaks-out with amazing fierceness as Mink. Honestly, the family comes across like a legit, reasonably dysfunctional rural familial-unit, which makes everything that happens so unnerving.

The Wailing, The Medium is pretty scary stuff. Maybe not so surprisingly, it is creepier and more chilling while it remains relatively grounded. There is a bit of a renaissance underway for folk horror and Pisanthanakun’s film definitely qualifies. Highly recommended for fans of folk horror and Thai horror, The Medium starts streaming tomorrow (10/14) on Shudder.