Asian cinema has been a leader in the horror genre going on for two decades strong now. In the early 2000s, J-Horror was all the rage. Western horror fans gobbled up movies like The Ring, Pulse, and The Grudge. And Hollywood studios quickly signed up for remakes. Likewise, Korean (The Wailing, Train to Busan) and Thai (The Pool, Shutter) horror movies have continued to push the limits in horror in the last 10 years or so. Amidst a strong year for horror, Thai director Banjong Pisanthanakun released his latest supernatural horror movie, The Medium. Most critics praised the movie, while the Thai twist on The Exorcist also found its way on to some ‘Best of‘ lists for the year.
In the Isan region of Thailand, Nim, a local shaman, agrees to participate in a documentary. Initially, Nim regales the film-making crew with the intricacies of Thai supernatural folklore. But as she details the inheritance ceremony in which took the place of her older sister as the host of a benevolent local deity the crew decides to film her extended family. As the documentary continues, Nim grows increasingly worried about her niece, Mink. Soon it becomes clear that an evil spirit has taken hold of niece for her family’s past sins.
The Medium Easily Surpasses the Limitations of a Face-Value Familiar Story
Plenty of movies can generate popcorn thrills and jump scares. Few movies have the power to genuinely disturb. Yet The Medium may be one of the most disturbing horror movies in years. Not surprisingly, some of the movie’s ability to get under your skin stems from the content itself. Director Banjon Pisanthanakun (Shutter) doesn’t shy away from showing you the pure evil of the spirits possessing Mink. Though early scenes of Mink’s possession may remind audiences of The Exorcist, Pisanthanakun dials up the sheer intensity of his demonic carnage in the third act. Arguably, The Medium’s closing 15 to 20 minutes are amongst the most uncomfortable you’ll sit through in a movie. Expertly mounted tension accompanies the shocks alongside a few well-timed jumps.
Arguably, The Medium’s closing 15 to 20 minutes are amongst the most uncomfortable you’ll sit through in a movie.
But The Medium’s scares also emerge from Pisanthanakun’s staging of Chantavit Dhanasevi and Na Hong-jin’s screenplay. Specifically, The Medium meticulously establishes its documentary approach to the subject in its first act. So much time is spent with Nim’s detailing of Thai folklore and her role as a shaman that the subsequent demonic possession story feels like a genuine jolt. Pisanthanakun’s world feels so initially benign that you’re unprepared for what follows. Does The Medium perhaps take a little too long to get where it’s going? Yes. At just over two hours, The Medium drags some scenes past their expiration point. But it’s ending makes those extra minutes worth it.
Faux Documentary Approach a Blessing and Curse for The Medium
Not everything works in The Medium. In addition to its excessively long runtime, Pisanthanakun’s choice to use a mockumentary approach feels unnecessary. On one hand, it allows The Medium to explore its intricate folklore in a manner that never feels like lazy exposition. In fact, at times, this part of the movie is absolutely engrossing. It also allows for an approach to story-telling that plants important plot points and ideas early without necessarily tipping off their importance.
…these are minor criticisms of a horror movie that gets just about everything else right.
Nonetheless, as The Medium kicks its demonic possession narrative into gear, the documentary style quickly outlives its usefulness. To some extent, the approach limits Pisanthanakun’s ability to really explore the complex dynamics between Nim and her family members. Too many scenes also feel contrived, which is common for faux documentary and found-footage movies. Inevitably, The Medium raises the same question as every other similarly styled movie – why would someone keep filming amidst so much horror? However, these are minor criticisms of a horror movie that gets just about everything else right. And the performances are uniformly stunning.
The Medium Most Compelling Demonic Possession Movie Since The Exorcist
Not since The Exorcist has a demonic possession movie delivered such disturbing scares. But The Medium is more than just a Thai-remix of the horror classic. With Pisanthanakun’s unique blend of Thai folklore, complex family dynamics, and supernatural horror ensures that The Medium is a unique genre experience. While its faux documentary approach allows Pisanthanakun to weave a dense cultural narrative, it feels unnecessary by the movie’s final act. And few movies needs two and a half hours to tell their story. Notwithstanding these minor qualms, The Medium is arguably the scariest and most disturbing movie in recent memory.