The Medium (2021)
the medium | banjong pisanthanakun | narilya gulmongkolpech | sawanee utoomma | sirani yankittikan | religion | ritual | thailand | south korea | yasaka chaisorn | boonsong nakphoo | arunee wattana | possessed | possession | curse | thanutphon boonsong | found-footage
Film: The Medium
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Writer: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Starring: Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sawanee Utoomma and Sirani Yankittikan
This is a movie that was interesting as it was selected as a bonus watch for a horror movie challenge that I did during October for the 22 Shots of Moodz and Horror. I didn’t get to see this then, but I heard Duncan from the Podcast Under the Stairs cover this in October and it went on my list of 2021 films to see. He sold me when the writers of The Wailing and the director of the original Shutter were involved. For this movie, our synopsis is a horrifying story of a shaman’s inheritance in the Isan region of Thailand. What could be possessing a family member might not be the Goddess they make it out to be.
Now this is a found-footage film that started out as a documentary into shamans across Thailand. They ended up focusing though on Nim (Sawanee Utooma). This was supposed to have started in 2018. They establish that Thailand has a lot of people who are spiritual, even before organized religion made it to the area. They believe there are spirits all around us. The goddess that Nim is a shaman for is Ba Yan. They aren’t sure where she came from or her history, but she has been able to help those that seek her aid from spiritual problems. She confirms she cannot cure things like cancer and a real doctor is needed.
The movie then gives us a bit of the history on the shamans in this area. It is ancestral and always women. Nim’s older sister of Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) was originally selected to be the shaman, but she declined. She instead married her husband and the honor fell on Nim. They also have an older brother of Manit (Yasaka Chaisorn) who is a bit of a screw-up.
The issue that arises is that Noi’s husband passes away young. Nim goes to the funeral where she is treated poorly due to being a shaman. It appears that Noi’s family has converted to Christianity. While at the funeral and wake, Nim notices that Noi’s daughter Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) is acting funny. The documentary team shifts to also following her. It is believed that the inheritance of Ba Yan is now falling on Mink. Nim isn’t so sure. The deeper that her and the documentary crew dig into this, there could be something much more terrifying happening with Mink. Ba Yan might not also be exactly what this family thinks as well.
That should be enough to get you up to speed. Where I’m going to start with my breakdown is that this is an interesting found-footage film. What I think makes this work as well as it does is that we start off learning that this is a documentary crew, following different shamans from around Thailand. They do well in establishing the culture there and why this is a thing. It is believable. They decide to follow Nim as she seems to be more interesting and the dark events just sort of happen while they are there. When I’m watching a found-footage film, I want there to be some believable, even if the movie goes outrageous. We get that here. I can believe they would continue to film as they are doing which also helps. I also like that as things grow and a story is developing, they expand out to follow more people to get all sides of it.
Going from this idea, I want to delve first into Nim and this goddess she is the shaman for of Ba Yan. Nim had other dreams. Her older sister was supposed to be the next shaman, but she didn’t want it. Noi did some shady things that we will learn about as events progress to cause Ba Yan to shift over to Nim. Regardless of how she felt back then, she accepted her fate. We get this great scene later in the movie that is a reveal I wasn’t fully expecting, but after it did, it does make sense. I don’t want to spoil what that is. What I will say, I like how grounded Nim is despite what her profession is. She likes to help people, but not everything is as it seems.
What I mean there goes back to the synopsis. We aren’t fully sure about Ba Yan and the movie establishes that. It states they don’t know the origins of this deity or where she came from. It becomes creepy when Mink thinks that she is selected as the next shaman. She has a normal life and doesn’t want it. Noi wants to prevent it, but as her daughter becomes possessed and acting strange, she allows her daughter doing an acceptance ritual. That is when Nim steps in. This goes back to things not being as they seem. This hooked me and had me questioning things. At first, I thought maybe it was the shaman performing the ritual and not fully understanding, but it is deeper than that.
Where I’ll shift is that this movie is dealing with curses. It almost is showing that not all of them are bad. This is also showing that not all possession is bad either. We don’t see that concept a lot. Technically Noi was being possessed and she fought it. Nim is supposedly possessed by Ba Yan. Mink is also under possession, but by what? This does go back to the funeral with Noi’s husband. The men seem to die tragic, young and untimely deaths. There seems to be a curse over them. There is a reveal there that is interesting and kind of blows this open here. The movie also reveals family secrets that are dark as well.
I think that is enough of the story, so I want to shift over to discuss the acting. Gulmongkolpech is good as our lead here. I like that Mink isn’t shown for a bit into the movie, but she soon becomes the focus. She is a character I feel bad for. She has a life that she wants to live and these events ruin that. Gulmongkolpech does well with her body movements when she is possessed. Overall, I say she killed it with her performance. I like Utoomma as the shaman we start with and who we think is the character we will follow the whole time. I believe her performance. Yankittikan is good as this mother who is faced with difficult decisions which is to believe in the supernatural or find a scientific way to save her daughter. Other than that, I think we get support from Chaisorn as Manit, Boonsong Nakphoo as Santi who is another shaman as well as Pang (Arunee Wattana) who is the wife to Manit. The acting is good across the board for me.
From here I want to go to the pacing a bit. This movie runs just over two hours long. It is interesting is that Duncan warned about this movie being slow. It is for sure a slow burn. The first hour or so is establishing the world and the religions we are seeing. What I like though, I’m sucked into this. We are getting a bit of Mink descending into her madness so that helps. It is the last like 45 minutes or so that this movie gets wild. If you can get to that, I think the payoff is worth it.
Then the last parts of the movie to go into are the cinematography, effects and the soundtrack. For the former, I’ve already said that I believe the found-footage aspects of the movie. I think it adds a creepy level to what we are getting as it feels more real. I was impressed with this to be honest. The effects to go along with it are good. I know there is probably some CGI in there, but I didn’t mind it. They don’t linger on it to allow me to critique it, which is strategic. This movie legitimately unnerved me with what they do. It doesn’t happen often and I’m glad what it can. Other than that, the soundtrack is diegetic. What we are hearing is from the scenes and the world. It adds another level of realism to the atmosphere.
So then in conclusion here, this movie is one that when I heard about it caught my interest. I’m glad that I didn’t sleep on this one. It has aspects that tick boxes for me and I enjoyed how this played out. It is interesting a look at culture different from mine. I think that the performances are good and bring the characters to life. The atmosphere it builds is creepy with the found-footage style of shooting it, the effects and the soundtrack from the world it takes place. For me, I’d say this is good movie that is just bordering on being great. I’m excited to revisit this one again.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10