Writers: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Na Hong-jin, Chantavit Dhanasevi, Cha-won Choi and Siwawut Sewatanon
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Banjong Pisanthanakun’s horror, set in Thailand, begins like a documentary. Indeed, for the first 20 minutes or so, as the cameramen interviews a shaman about the god she is channelling, you might easily be disappointed, thinking you’ve been sold the wrong film. However, this illusion is lost when the camera decides to follow Nim’s niece instead. The result is a delirious mix of Carrie and Blair Witch Project.
The documentary conceit might have worked if it had been carried out more consistently, but there are more camera angles than the ones coming from the handheld cameras of the filmmakers, and it’s never explained why Nim and her family are being filmed. Are the cameramen ghost-hunters or anthropologists?
As Nim, Sawanee Utoomma is believable and wry enough to be a real-life shaman, but soon Narilya Gulmongkolpech as the niece Mink is crawling around the floor with only the whites of her eyes showing in typical horror movie fashion. The Exorcist is the most likely influence but there are moments too of The Grudge and The Ring, and even, in its caught footage, Paranormal Activity.
With all these touchstones, the story is, of course, preposterous. It’s surprisingly simple, which is handy because the subtitles are often missing letters and the text which separates the chapters of the story are un-translated. Is Mink possessed by evil demons or has the local deity Ba Yan decided that Mink be the new shaman, taking the role away from Nim? The ceremonies the family undergo to discover the truth backfire and Mink gets worse not better, but it’s still not clear whether good or evil has taken over her body.
In the ensuing madness, the tension between the belief in local gods and worldwide Catholicism is, unfortunately, underplayed. The rituals performed in front of Ba Yan’s statue atop a forested mountain seem dignified and proportionate. Offerings are made to the god while Nim pours water over women’s heads in purification ceremonies. The Catholic parades in the town’s streets seem gaudy in comparison. Christ comes in neon, accompanied by fairy lights.
It could be that Mink’s possession is a punishment for her own mother’s conversion to Christianity and her refusal to be Ba Yan’s new conduit. As Mink’s mother, Sirani Yankittikan is splendidly out of place as she gives her own reasons for not wanting to be the shaman.
But this religious subtext is underexplored as the film slowly moves to its ludicrous showdown where most of the actors get the chance to roll their eyeballs back in their sockets. Your eyes will be rolling too.
The Medium is screening at the London Film Festival 2021.