What to Watch Verdict
'The Medium' is horrifying when it wants to be, heavy on Thai cultural spirituality and erupts a volcanic blast of molten-hot possession chaos.
👶 The ending goes for broke
👶 The duration flies by
👶 Horror and culture exist in harmony
👶 Unstoppable when it kicks into gear
👶 It's a slower build
👶 Requires patience not all have
👶 Can feel like two movies
There’s no doubt Banjong Pisanthanakun’s Thai shaman thriller The Medium will be the best Shudder release at least half of its users abandon midway through or sooner (American audiences’ appetite for simmers and subtitles is disappointingly limited).
An easy comparison point to The Medium's narrative flow and chapter approaches would be 2016’s South Korean The Wailing, which establishes loads of ritualistic mythology before unleashing immeasurable hells unto the earth. Although, The Wailing shines a brighter cinematic polish where as The Medium favors a more guerrilla faux-documentary execution that’s a tad less “beautified.”
Pisanthanakun exploits intimacy like talking heads and unprecedented access, which — in my opinion — showcases the advantages of international horror stories that take their time in developing emotional investment before launching into some excitably nightmarish climaxes.
In the Isan region of Thailand, Nim (Sawanee Utoomma) allows a camera crew access to her shaman duties under the goddess Ba Yan. A death in the family introduces sister Noi (Sirani Yankittikan) and Noi’s daughter, Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech), who’ve just lost their husband and father, respectively. Soon, Nim observes Mink acting erratically and becomes suspicious. Noi once refused Ba Yan’s selection to be the next shaman, which opened the door for Nim — Noi believes the same selection process may be happening to Mink, but Nim begins to fear a much more dangerous entity is trying to possess and control Mink. Noi demands an Acceptance Ceremony and does so through an outside party despite Nim’s protest.
That’s when Mink becomes a vessel for something outstandingly unholy.
At its best, The Medium explores Thai worshipping practices and traditional beliefs in shaman culture, much like how The Wailing depicts colorful processions and recites incantations of Korean equivalents. Nim's modern outlook on her chosen status understands the boundaries of her prayers — she jokes that anyone coming to her for a cancer cure will undoubtedly perish. That doesn’t put a stoppage on territorial flourishes like how suicide is viewed as a sentence straight down below or the abandonment of Thailand’s ancestral importance when defecting to Christianity. So much of this movie is about Nim’s spirituality and those spells she casts — eggs cleanse energy fields, strings connect artifacts to souls and chants become unbound speaking in tongues. I share no ancestral Thai connections, but Pisanthanakun’s signatures still feel indebtedly authentic as a regional portrayal.
That faithfulness to respecting cultural normalities centrally identifies at least an hour of this two-hour-plus exorcism alteration. The Medium feels its length but is a rare case without excessiveness — durability reigns supreme. Pisanthanakun sustains tension via transformation like The Exorcism Of Emily Rose or The Last Exorcism by including Mink’s entire extended family to accentuate Mink’s possession evolution. Nim and Noi challenge their bond as sisters while brother Manit (Yasaka Chaisorn) provides aid despite endangering his wife and newborn son. All this interconnectivity and reliance on Thailand's communal stresses is revolutionary to an outside Westerner’s perception — like watching Indonesia’s Impetigore or Panama’s Diablo Rojo PTY — and requires healthy global curiosity. It’s not necessarily a rollercoaster, more like a log flume that tugs you upward at a slightly slanted angle for what feels like the entire ride, then plunges you at 90 degrees into the splash zone of crimson waters and bobbing body parts.
Once The Medium engages emerald night vision washes on the documentary cameras, Pisanthanakun becomes a mad director possessed. As Mink, Narilya Gulmongkolpech plays a feral, out-of-body amalgamation of evil entities that commit unspeakable deeds, with the actress transforming into something spectacularly inhuman while leaking pools of blood from orifices. As Noi’s house becomes her playground of sin while everyone sleeps and surveillance cameras record a collection of found footage scares, Pisanthanakun achieves horror absolution — but that’s merely a tease.
The Medium continues onward as decorated shaman masters are enlisted to vanquish Mink’s possessors forever, which becomes the closest feature adaptation to Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s lauded “Safe Haven” segment from V/H/S/2. It’s a damnation-dynamite horror combustion of ravenous creatures, mangled mutilation and the satanic panic of exorcisms gone catastrophic as — at the core of everything — Noi fights for her innocent daughter’s survival.
Concerning The Medium, patience is a virtue. Pisanthanakun’s payoff takes some of the wildest horror swings you’ll see all year, continuing onward for a supremely devastating length in response to the quieter opening groundwork. Organs spill onto sacred soil, ghouls savor their grins toward recording devices and this unstoppably hedonistic portrayal of ultimate evils blares the horns of cultural representation in horror cinema. Lifesaving chants become a chaotic chorus of convulsions and whimpering cries for mercy as Mink wrestles for the crown between 2021’s most memorable genre villains. Stare the devil in his eyes and see what looks back — The Medium is more than a taste of blasphemy versus righteousness with a horror bend; it's an overwhelming surge of sinister revilement that’s too crazy-chaotic in the end to miss.
The Medium will debut exclusively on Shudder on Oct. 14.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.