Life imitates art imitating life in this latest Thai import that is more likely than not going puzzle to the minds of even the most ardent Asian Horror fans. The Victim in question is Ting—portrayed by Pitchanart Sakakorn. Ting is a young actress looking to make a name for herself. When the opportunity comes she takes a job portraying victims for police crime reenactments (for Western audiences unaccustomed to the concept—Until a few years ago actual crime victims were often required to reenact their attacks for the benefit of the police investigation and the press—a practice that has been lessened due to the rash of unforeseen violence that was often unleashed on perpetrators by bystanders during the reenactments). Always reverent to the task at hand and concerned over upsetting the spirits of the dead, Ting takes time to pray at each location for the souls of those that died—unaware that the ghostly images of their corpses often linger mere feet away as she kneels in reverence.
Proving exceptional at her job, Ting is soon offered the opportunity to portray Meen—a Taiwanese Beauty Queen who was brutally murdered by her husband—in a film about her life and death. As filming begins, Ting discovers that the restless spirit of Meen (Apasiri Nitibhon) is trying to tell her something. But will she unravel the mystery before it’s too late.
Director Monthon Arayangkoon’s film barrels along at a pretty pleasant pace up until about the 50-minute mark. At this point the film veers off what seemed like a pretty well-worn path, into a heady and frankly jarring new direction. With a simple camera pull-back in the midst of a terrifying scene Arayangkoon reveals that what we are watching is in fact the film that actress Pitchanart Sakakorn is starring in. Ting is a creation and every frame from the opening credit sequence up until now never actually happened. The actress portraying Ting is named May (still played by Sakakorn—are you getting to David Lynch’ed yet?). As luck would have it, May has the same backstory as Ting so there is no need to cover that ground again. Also as luck might have it, May is about to realize that the spirit of Meen is trying to tell her something too. What is set in motion at this point of the movie is an increasingly erratic production that weaves fantasy and reality into a head-splitting mess of a movie, as May tries to discover what is going on around her, why her co-workers keep winding up dead, and what does Meen want with her.
It’s easy to invoke the name of David Lynch when trying to decipher the plot progression in THE VICTIM. But where Lynch succeeds and many others fail is in capturing the dreamlike non-linear nature of a nightmare while still managing to captivate the viewing audience—something he tends to do using Cinematography and Score. Arayangkoon’s film might look and sound nice but it sacrifices a lot of its style by selling cheap Asian Horror scares. A cursory glance at the film can show scenes lifted from JU-ON 2 and even the “sea of hands” sequence that was most famously in the US J-Horror remake PULSE.
It’s not that THE VICTIM is repetitive or derivative; in fact it’s very original—privileged to have an exceedingly interesting filmmaking concept. By destroying audience’s expectations halfway through the film, the director had the opportunity to virtually rewrite Asian Horror in a new and exciting way. Arayangkoon fumbles the ball because once he changes the focus of the film; he keeps trying to re-trick the audience by incorporating more dream sequences. Regrettably, by trying to keep us off balance he really only frustrates, confuses and finally forces us to stop caring what is happening in the film—only hoping that it will all make sense before the feature fades to black.
I’m happy to report that when the aforementioned moment does arrive, everything about THE VICTIM becomes perfectly clear—it all makes sense at last. Too bad the wrap up also feels tagged on, as if the filmmakers felt the story was out of gas so they just decided to end it in the last 5-minutes with a whirlwind of detail. The major problem with the film is that the path to that resolution is so perilously frustrating. I wanted to try and keep up. I even paused, rewound, watched scenes again—not searching for clues, or cinematic tricks—but just making sure that I didn’t miss something. I guess at some point I finally gave up too—resigning myself to just letting the film pass by, my synapses no longer firing. In the end, THE VICTIM is nothing more than one hell of a good idea lost in the middle of an utterly mediocre ghost story.