Genuinely scary Thai horror The Medium, leans into both Western and Southeast Asian horror history to create something new.
Produced by Na Hong-jin, director of the very strange South Korean horror The Wailing, and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, The Medium is a slow burn docu-drama. A crew of documentary filmmakers are following Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), a shaman who is the conduit for a good spirit – Ba Yan. Like many cultures with strong religious convictions, though there are some more modern aspects to their lives, they are still led heavily by more historic customs. The belief that everything has a spirit, from their homes to their pets to the trees, is weaved into the services that Nim, as a shaman, provides to the community. She is a realist, suggesting that if someone has cancer and tries to visit her for help, they will probably die, with her niche being that of spiritual maladies.
When Nim’s elder sister Noi’s (Sirani Yankittikan) husband dies, Nim attends the funeral, film crew in tow. We are shown a long-term conflict between Nim and the rest of her family, as tragedy after tragedy befalls them. Starting with Noi’s choice to pass over the possession from Ba Yan, which should have been her birth rite as eldest girl.
During her visit, Nim notices that her niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech) shows some signs of demonic possession. She tries to warn her family, but it’s not until things escalate that they begin to realise that Mink needs some serious spiritual help.
Much like The Exorcist, the first hour or so leans into the idea of this possession as mental illness. Rash behaviour, lack of self-control, violence and paranoia create an unsettling picture of a culture trapped in the throes of religious indoctrination. The Medium is a slow burn, taking it’s time to really build a picture of the relationships between these characters, their fears, conflicts, and relationships to each other. As things begin to escalate in the second half, it becomes a more fast paced and scary experience, pulling no punches as it plays out in gruesome detail. The final half hour is intense, chilling, and puts any impatience with the first half to bed. Not since [Rec] has found footage been so scary.
The performances are selfless and chilling, as Narilya Gulmongkolpech distorts herself to unrecognisable extents to become the possessed Mink. Sirani Yankittikan visibly goes through varying stages of disbelief to belief to desperation as she portrays Noi’s reactions to her daughter’s state. And Sawanee Utoomma’s Nim’s intense belief and need to help despite her family’s resistance makes her a compelling person to follow.
It’s a bleak experience, and not for the faint hearted. The first hour or so is a little challenging and threatens to outstay its welcome, however as The Medium escalates, it can more than earn its place on your list in the lead up to Halloween.
The Medium will be available on Shudder from October 14th