Reviewed by James A. Janisse
Michael Biehn is best known to the general public as an actor in several James Cameron films, notably playing Kyle Reese in the original Terminator. Biehn takes to writing and directing himself in a starring a role for last year’s The Victim, a movie produced by his wife and co-star actress Jennifer Blanc. Biehn plays a recluse in the woods whose solitude is interrupted by a mini-skirted blonde woman screaming for help (Blanc). She tells him that some cops are coming to kill her and he reluctantly agrees to help, starting an exciting series of power reversals between the two of them and the pair of dirty cops.
Despite his extensive experience acting, Biehn comes across as wooden in most of his scenes. Whenever he isn’t yelling (which he admittedly does well), his disposition is so dry that it’s unreadable. This actually works in the film’s favor; the tone is dark, sinister, and threatening throughout, with the characters’ motivations always just the slightest bit unclear, so Biehn’s subdued acting blends in naturally. More distracting are the unpolished performances by the actors playing the cops, Ryan Honey and Denny Kirkwood. Honey’s the most blatant offender, over-acting up and down, probably because this is his first real role outside of bit parts and video shorts. As a rookie director, Biehn is unable to coax convincing performances out of any of his male cast members, but luckily Blanc holds her weight and genre veteran Danielle Harris (Jamie Lloyd from Halloween parts 4 and 5, as well as the Rob Zombie reboot) delivers a stand-out performance.
I mentioned earlier that The Victim‘s tone is clear, and as an exploitation horror film, it really hits a lot of the right buttons. The isolated cabin in the woods, the full moon, the bad guys being privileged cops – Biehn knows how to create a feeling of suspenseful oppression with the story he’s written. There are some really memorable scenes, such as when Biehn first gains the upper hand on Honey and interrogates him with a crowbar. The two of them also have a rough-and-tumble fight scene that would make James Bond proud. These big moments are done well, but the specifics of the movie – mainly the acting and the dialogue – are stilted and, quite frankly, bad. Biehn has a honed sense of what makes a good horror movie, but he has a hard time articulating some of those thoughts.
Adding to the ups and (mostly) downs of the film are some half-baked philosophies about life as a game and many different ideas of what victimhood really is, as well as the most bizarre soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a horror movie. I was intrigued by the Eastern-flavored song that accompanied the lengthy driving montage early on in the film, but consistency in the music never develops, and later scenes are distractedly set to hard rock, country, and Sarah McLachlan-esque songs.
The Victim isn’t excellent, but it’s loads of fun and it feels like a good and proper horror movie. The credits, acknowledging both cast and crew in goofy footage and photographs (again set to a bizarre music choice, this time a very upbeat pop song), really capture the heart of the movie – a solid effort put forth by people who simply don’t have that much experience, which resulted in a flawed but enjoyable horror film.
Video: For all its shortcomings, The Victim is shot well, and the high definition BluRay quality makes it beautiful to watch. A lot of the footage is very dark and moonlit blue, with the story taking place largely outside at night. While this helps the tone and is realistic, it also makes it difficult to see things.
Sound: A solid surround sound mix leaves the remote control resting uninterrupted on the table. Dialogue is clear and understandable and the sound effects are at an appropriate loudness. I still can’t get over the strange selections for the soundtrack, but the sound quality of all the music is top notch.
Extras / Special Features:
Behind the Scenes (25 minutes): The film’s sole special feature (besides audio commentary by Biehn and Blanc) is a short “making-of”. Everyone involved with the film is interviewed and they all seem like really good people. They all espouse how much they cared about the project, a devotion that comes through in the film’s watchability. Individually, it’s clear that Biehn and Blanc put their whole hearts into making this film, a point emphasized by the lack of stunt doubles for the fight scenes. The best part of this featurette is the footage of Biehn blacking out while getting choked by Honey. It was also refreshing to see such a large percentage of the crew being made up of females, a rarity in the industry and especially in this genre. Overall, the Behind the Scenes feature makes clear what the movie itself hints at: This project was a labor of love between a small group of people who really enjoyed each other.