Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Notable Cast: Sawanee Utoomma, Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sirani Yankittikan, Yasaka Chaisorn, Boonsong Nakphoo, Arunee Wattana, Thanutphon Boonsang, Akkaradech Rattanawong
After spending a large portion of this October revisiting classic found-footage horror films and series for the Blood Brothers cousin podcast, No Franchise Fatigue, it seemed like a coincidence that Shudder’s latest exclusive film, The Medium, would utilize the format. The 00s and early 2010s trend of found footage horror is hardly dead, but it certainly has taken a step back as dramatic arthouse horror and slashers have started to make strong comebacks to dominate the genre lately.
Despite its generic title, The Medium not only understands how to maximize the striking power of the found footage style, but its pacing, balance, and grounded execution make it one of the most terrifying films of the year. It’s a film that works on the surface as a slow-burning story of possession but also manages to embed a thematic religious layering that deepens the experience in some fascinating ways. Not only is it one of the best of the year, but The Medium may also just be one of the best found-footage horror films in the history of the genre.
A camera crew in Thailand has set out to record the proceedings of a local shaman during a time of transition for the goddess that empowers their family. As the events start to unfold though, a much more complex family history may have created a circumstance for a darker spirit to take hold of the family with the shaman's niece, Ming, as its victim.
The main problem that has arisen is that so many of the newer found-footage horror films are so gimmicky with the style, they fail to capitalize on the dread, naturalism, and in-the-moment horror that can be massive assets. If horror is meant to make its audience wonder, ‘what would I do in this situation,’ then this style of filmmaking literally puts the viewer in the moment with the characters involved.
The Medium correctly addresses this in crafting a realistic documentary-style structure that slowly, but surely evolves into a horrifying final act. The slow burn of its first half, which focuses on building the characters, their relationships, and the religious aspects of its story, eventually ignites into a raging inferno of horror imagery and terrifying payoffs. The film might read as a bit slow at the beginning, but so much of its time building the family dynamics and religious belief feed into creating that naturalism and realism needed to balance out the supernatural elements of the latter half.
Don’t let the pacing of its setup fool you, there is a lot of material in the writing and performances worth a viewer’s attention in The Medium. The thematic weight of the power of belief, or lack thereof, bleeds through every moment through to the final moment before the credits roll and the performances match the naturalism of the family dynamics. While Narilya Gulmongkopech gets to effectively stretch her acting chops as Ming, the young woman then moves from chippy young professional to horrific possessed creature, the rest of the cast is also impressively fitting for their roles and delivering believable performances, no matter what they are asked to do. It’s smartly executed in these ways to make sure that every moment counts.
The Medium is also a film not for the faint of heart. As mentioned, the film cascades into possession territory in the final act (before truly going off the rails in one of the most dynamic and diabolically intense ritual sequences put to film) and it does deliver on those scares and tension. As Ming gradually gets stranger, the film devilishly places things around her to warrant plenty of threats. The multi-family home features animals and a baby, not to mention her acts of oddity sway from the usual wandering around at night to intense supernatural tricks. There are a few moments not for the faint of heart and, without spoiling it, more sensitive viewers may want to look away for a couple of moments.
The biggest strength of The Medium, beyond its frights and lofty heights of scripting, is the sheer fact that it lingers well after the film has ended. If found footage horror mostly succeeds in thrusting its audience into the moment, The Medium goes one step further by delivering a story with themes that stick in the brain. The last scene of the film adds an unexpected shift to how to approach its religious angle. Not only does the film deliver thoughtful scares, but its thoughtfulness haunts too.
The popularity of found footage horror may have waned in the last few years, but partnered with the recent release of V/H/S/94, Shudder is unleashing some of the best the style has seen in years. The Medium is a testament to that. It’s incredibly well written, paced to balance out its scares with intriguing narratives on belief, and the performances ground all of the escalating horrors. Although I went into the film with no expectations, I cannot recommend The Medium enough. It’s a truly effective horror trip to Thailand.