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Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE VICTIM -- DVD review by porfle

Remember that "really scared" feeling you used to get when you watched horror movies as a kid, but hardly ever experience now that you're a grownup and movies don't affect you that way anymore? Well, I'm feeling it again right now after watching the 2006 Thai terror film THE VICTIM from Tartan Asia Extreme. Jeepers, this sucker is flat-out scary.

The story begins with an aspiring young actress named Ting (Pitchanart Sakakorn) who gets a gig playing the murder victims in police reenactments. She's so enthusiastic and convincing at this that she actually starts to develop a fan base. Fearing that she may anger the souls of the victims she portrays, she offers prayers each time to assure them that her intentions are good--while, unseen by her, their spirits surround her. When a popular beauty queen named Meen disappears and evidence points to a brutal murder, Ting becomes so wrapped up in accurately portraying her that she begins to receive supernatural help which leads her to the killer, endangering her own life in the process.

Pitchanart Sakakorn is cute as a button and her character is a lot of fun. Her story, while containing some scary elements, is also a tantalizing mystery that comes to a suspenseful conclusion about halfway through the movie. And then, suddenly, something deviously unexpected happens that pulls the rug out from under the viewer and transforms THE VICTIM into a whole different movie altogether. And this one is a lot darker, stranger, and scarier than before.

Now, the emphasis is on a film crew shooting a movie about Meen's death and Ting's involvement in the aftermath. Strange things start to happen on the set, and spectral images show up on the film during editing. Worse, the actors and crew begin to experience terrifying ghostly encounters and die off one by one. May, the actress portraying Ting in the film, shows indications of being possessed by Meen's vengeful spirit. And things just get worse from there.

Director Monthon Arayangkoon displays great skill at building a tense, tautly-drawn aura of dread and luring the viewer into one blood-chilling "gotcha!" scene after another. Usually I get numb to these after awhile, but here, almost every one of them had me jumping as though I were being poked with a cattle prod. Whenever a character turns around, chances are something awful's going to be standing there. When the camera moves slightly off center during a closeup and reveals empty space behind the actor, we just know something horrible's going to pop up. And knowing it doesn't help.

There are some really good makeup effects here, and the staging of the scare scenes is excellent. A few of them are flawed by obvious CGI, though--by now we all know what it looks like, and it can really kill the mood when it's too cartoonish-looking. But many of the images, especially one of a ghoulish, decayed Likae dancer jerkily lurching toward us, are utterly nightmarish.

The DVD image is 1:66:1 with 5.1 Dolby Digital, featuring a Thai soundtrack with optional subtitles. Both music and sound design are memorably creepy.

In addition to a trailer and TV spots, there's a 22-minute "The Making of 'The Victim'" which is scarier than the film itself. We learn that the murder scenes Ting reenacts were not only based on real events, but shot on the actual locations as well. The actors were kept in the dark about this particular factoid, though, so as not to distract them, and were understandably freaked out when this was finally revealed to them. Worse, we're shown several pieces of footage(which were used in the movie itself) that appear to have authentic ghostly images on them. It's like one of those Fox TV specials--you don't know if it's true, or if they're just pulling our chains--but it's told in a straightforward manner, with corroborating testimony from cast and crew, and is just plain disturbing.

You may be more desensitized to stuff like this if you've seen a lot of scarier Asian horror films, but it's been a couple of hours since I watched THE VICTIM and I'm still feeling uncomfortably nervous and spooked-out. At this rate, I'm gonna have to pop a Walt Disney antidote into the DVD player and happy myself up before I go to bed.


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