THE MEDIUM (2021) is a Thai horror film that presents a Southeast Asian take on possession. Culturally fresh and featuring likeable characters, the film had me riveted until the last act, when character arcs and story are set aside for kitchen-sinked horror tropes.
Directed by Thai director Banjong Pisanthanakun (SHUTTER) and produced by Korean director Na Hong-jin (THE WAILING), the film rolls out as a mockumentary documenting Nim, a female shaman practicing in rural Thailand. Her family has been shamans for generations, the product of possession by a local goddess named Ba Yan. Nim’s sister Noi was originally chosen by Ba Yan but rejected her, opting to become Christian and marrying a man whose own family may be cursed. When Noi’s daughter Mink displays signs of being possessed by vindictive spirits, the stage is set for a spiritual battle.
The film has a terrific build to the climax. I loved the look at the local culture, shamanism, and the characters themselves, who are all likeable. The story takes its time until you thoroughly get to know the spiritual mechanics at play and the family dynamics. Everything feels authentic and lived in. The casting of exorcism as a spiritual battle between Ba Yan and other forces of good against dark, vengeful spirits enacting a curse is terrific. I was really rooting for these people to win. The found footage aspect neither adds nor detracts from the storytelling, though there were a few times when the difficulties of found footage filmmaking made me aware of the conceit and interrupted willing suspension of disbelief.
In the last act, all hell breaks loose in the same vein as Na Hong-jin’s THE WAILING. Loads of scary stuff and nicely done, though it goes on way too long with way too little hope, which brings me to a criticism of films like THE WAILING and a similar American film, THE DARK AND THE WICKED. In my view, it’s perfectly wonderful to brutalize characters in a story as long as there’s hope and the chance for a fair fight. Take away the hope (or sense of justice common in horror), and it just seems mean and a bit nihilistic.
Overall, though, I loved it the way I loved THE WAILING, for the very likeable characters finding themselves at the center of a cosmic battle and the rich, interesting culture.