BFI London Film Festival Review – The Medium (2021)

A film crew is documenting the life of Nim, a Taiwanese shaman who acts as a conduit for an openhearted goddess known as Ba Yan. Equal parts curse and gift it is a destiny that filters down through her specific bloodline.

When her wayward niece Mink exhibits clear signs of possessional turmoil, those around her are convinced it’s Ba Yan transferring her ubiety to a fresh generation. However, a misguided acceptance ceremony designed to welcome her in leaves the door wide open for something far less benign to transgress the supernatural divide.

The filmmakers are thrown into the epicenter of a desperate fight for spiritual autonomy against an unknown enemy of epic evil.

Eclectic genre blast The Medium comes with quite the pedigree. Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun who gave us the sheer terror ride of Shutter, and co-written and produced by Na Hong-jin, the creative powerhouse behind The Wailing, the film also took top honours at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.

Rather than crumble under the weight of this expectation, The Medium percolates with machiavellian confidence as it relentlessly escalates towards one of the most barnstorming final reels of the year. Effortlessly fusing found footage, mockumentary, and delicately observed village life into a molotov cocktail of riveting lunacy.

Equal parts transcendental Art House drama and high-end demonsplotation shocker, it’s a film that is as determined to excel technically as to shamelessly entertain. Despite the plethora of manipulative and genuinely terrifying set pieces, it retains a solid grip on its perceptive examination of the cultural hangovers of superstition and folklore.

Sawanee Utoomma is superb as the stoical shaman Nim, a woman who embraces her metaphysical calling with grace and philosophical candor. Yet, as is the case with all faith-based belief systems, the struggle to feel worthy and accept the lack of physical proof is real.

It’s an extraordinarily raw and emotionally vulnerable characterisation that undercuts the sense of calm she projects to the frightened community at large. Her humanistic performance is the organic engine of the film and adds exquisite stability to the mockumentary framework.

Narilya Gulmongkolpech offers a delicious contrast as the glamourously self-destructive Mink. She oozes a turbid car crash screen presence as she drinks and fucks her way through a coping strategy of chaotic defiance in the face of otherwordly puppetry.

It is also a highly accomplished piece of acting work in terms of physicality and animalistic mannerisms that elevates The Medium to iconic levels of freakishness. The nighttime surveillance footage, in which she roams her vicinity like a nocturnal predator, is unmitigated weapons-grade nightmare fuel.

The overall aesthetic of the film is one of naturalistic power that harnesses the stunning landscapes and muggy climate to grand effect. Embedded at the core of the film’s mysticism is the premise that all things are in possession of a spirit, including inanimate objects, nonsentient organisms, and even buildings and places. Naruphol Chokanapitak‘s majestic cinematography does a sterling job of channeling this with atmospheric aplomb, as well as expanding the optical scope of the movie well beyond the boundaries of its stripped-down documentarian approach.

Pisanthanakun’s genre triumph is packed to bursting point with genuinely disturbing shock tactics, balls to the wall exploitation and full send jump scares. However, it’s the gorgeously rich character interactions, poetic visuals, outstanding set design, and ferocious narrative curvature that make it one of the finest horror films of the year.

★★★★★

Possession Horror, Supernatural Mockumentary  | Thailand | 2021 | 18 | 130 mins | Shudder (UK)| Dir. Banjong Pisanthanakun | With: Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sawanee Utoomma, Sirani Yankittikan

The Medium is scheduled to appear on Shudder from Thursday, October 14th