Movie Review: The goriest, most harrowing demonic possession tale this year is from Thailand — “The Medium”

The Medium” goes on too long, repeats itself often enough for you to notice and travels so far over the top for its finale that it’s practically bathed in blood.

But this chilling mockumentary from Thailand is one of the most harrowing horror films of the year. Even as it’s going over-the-top for that climax, it pulls you to the edge of your seat with a ticking clock exorcism countdown that may be the cleverest touch of all.

Well, that and sights and sounds of a documentary camera being chased, screaming and weeping, scared out of their wits.

The mockumentary element in writer-director Banjong Pisanthanakun’s film (working from an original story concocted by others) is that a Thai film crew has shown up among the mountain Isan people to make “Shaman Bloodline,” a film about the local Shaman Goddess of Ba Yan, a village spiritual advisor/healer role fulfilled by the same family for generations.

Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) hears people’s problems, helps them bury their dead and sometimes provides healing spells or incense thanks to her connection to a revered spirit, captured in statue form in a local cave.

As the crew follows her through her rituals and routines, Nim reveals she reluctantly accepted the call. Her sister Nio (Sirani Yankittikan) is the one who first caught “Shaman fever” and displayed the signs that she would take over from their grandmother. But Nio wanted to marry, and converted to Christianity to dodge this demanding obligation.

The viewer has just enough time to mutter “Uh oh,” after learning Nio’s husband just died…and that her son died under mysterious circumstances some time earlier.

Nim is nobody’s fool, either. When Nio’s surviving daughter, 20something Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) starts acting “weird,” so odd that her friends and family cell-phone record her lashing out, reverting to childhood at an indoor playground (shoving and hurting the children) and other episodes.

And let’s not get into what the CCTV camera caught her up to after-hours at the office.

Another film crew starts to follow her. And the one following Nim sees her growing concern, and then her doubts about what being be going on with her niece.

“Have you been having nightmares,” she asks Mink (in Thai with English subtitles)? “Have you heard someone calling you?”

Mink’s tirades start with incidents at work and hissed “I hope you all DIE” threats. She flips out, all dressed in a white gown, on a float at the town’s Christmas parade. She brakes down, chasing and hitting the film crew, afterwards mortified and terrified at what she’s experiencing.

Nim starts to think she needs reinforcements. That’s when the shaman Shanti (Boonsong Nakphoo) joins the fray.

This thriller only goes as far as its leading ladies can take it. And Utoomma’s panicked shaman goddess and Yankittakhan’s fiercely loyal but staggered mother are impressive.

But Gulmongkolpech goes at the madness of Mink hammer and tong. This is as fierce and alarming a performance as I’ve seen in many an exorcism/demonic possession movie. There is so much here that a reasonable actress might flinch at or protest — not because its degrading, just that it’s so “out there” as to leave her literally exposed. Gulmongkolpech fearlessly takes this character to depths and depravity that should make one and all who are trying to “save” Mink might be tempted to wonder if holly grows in Thailand in a size appropriate for making stakes.

Writer-director Pisanthanakun shows us more than we need to see, and can’t figure out a quick, chilling exit, so he drags things out in a movie that has a few too many langours in its action beats early on.

He still manages to land many a blow in that pummeling third act, so many he’d win it by decision if he hadn’t bloodied and bludgeoned us almost senseless already.

Cast: Sawanee Utoomma, Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sirani Yankittikan, Yasaka Chaisorn and Boonsong Nakphoo

Credits: Scripted and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun. A Shudder release.

Running time: 2:11

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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