The Medium (Rang Zong) takes multiple old tricks of the horror genre and shows they can still shock the audience, but perhaps should have found some middle ground on how shocking it is.
If I had a nickel for every time I reviewed a movie this year about a girl being possessed by a demon and doing obscene things, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird it happened twice.
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, The Medium (Rang Zong) is a mockumentary found footage film from a documentary crew who decided to film the Thai family of Nim (Sawanee Utoommaa). Nim is a powerful shaman whose most recent job is her most daunting one: trying to cure her possessed niece Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech). As any horror movie buff would expect, literally everything goes horrifically wrong.
I joked about it earlier, but there is some legit point to the fact that The Medium has many similarities to the countless “possessed girl does possessed things” sort of horror movies that came before. In fact, that’s far from the only remnant from the past that the film utilizes. It is a found footage film and there’s been more of those than there has been reviews criticizing the overuse of found footage. It features shamanism and demonic exorcism. If you watched many horror movies before, a lot of this film’s tricks should be familiar to you.
You may expect that to be a negative. After all, that is part of the reason why I gave The Exorcist a hard time before. But things are different for The Medium. The reason why the old horror tricks stood out too much in The Exorcist wasn’t just that they were there; it’s because they were there with no other flair or characters to immerse yourself in. That made the pedestrian nature of the horror clichés more noticeable.
If you are, say, going to reuse an old essay for a new assignment, you’d add to or change up some parts of it so that it still feels engaging despite the familiar elements. (N-not that I speak from experience). Which is exactly what The Medium does. The relatively exotic nature of the setting helps. There is an overall wet and creepy atmosphere, like a damp dark cellar that feels unique to the country. The characters are all well defined, and are put appropriately in the spotlight for the main drama of the movie. It even throws in an extra layer to the demonic possession by having the characters try and figure out just what sort of entity is possessing Mink.
The found footage format is also utilized fairly well here. Sure, that part may be more typical, but thanks to the plot and characters being engaging, I can actually immerse myself here. Besides, there is a reason why found footage has persisted for so long. Its more realistic feeling and the limitation of the senses it brings is a perfect fit for horror. And unlike some where it just feels like the cameraman was possessed by the spirit of an entire colony of bees, The Medium knows when to shake things up and let things rest, both figuratively and literally.
So, everything seems good so far. While originality might not be its strong suit, I can give it a pass in a genre where originality is just a myth, especially when it still puts in the effort to make it feel like a new story. But while watching the film, I was drawn to a particular recurring element of it that kept nagging at me: gore.
Now, obviously I am not expecting a horror movie to have a ghost bleeding grimace shake instead of blood. But when a film seems far too eager to showcase the characters’ innards, I feel that is a negative to the actual horror. There is a difference between subtle suspenseful horror and just shock factor, and gore typically leans towards the latter. Being scared is more taxing on your mind than you might imagine. If I already saw someone explode in a fountain of blood, I have already expended a lot of energy being shocked at that display. Thus, I can’t muster up as much enthusiasm for later scares because I feel I have already seen as bad as things can go. This is another old trick of horror, and is why I can never really be terrified of most slasher movies.
The Medium unfortunately decided this old scare trick was worth replicating. There are a lot of scenes that feel like they are just there to make you hurl. For instance (slight spoilers), there is a scene where Mink puts the family puppy into…um…a far hotter bath than it’s accustomed to. Now, I get the intention of these scenes is to show Mink has gone bonkers, but surely there are more subtle ways to show this.
As it is, several of these gory or explicit scenes feel like they are trying too hard and even tip into absurdity. There is a scene in the climax where the one of the camera crew is running away from possessed people. Then Mink catches up to him, takes his camera, and shows him the live footage of the possessed eating his insides, and he screams. While that might sound horrifying at first, it is more confusing in hindsight. So did the cameraman not notice his flesh being torn open and ripped out until Mink showed him the camera? Either these are the stealthiest ghosts known to man or the cameraman’s pain tolerance just broke the Guiness world record.
What’s frustrating is that at other times, this film understands how to be subtle. In one scene, Mink is in a car and leaning against the window. However, while she looks tired and afraid, her reflection has a sinister smile. That’s the sort of scares this film needed more of. You don’t need to always show what sort of bloody fate every character suffered. Sometimes letting us imagine what happened next after a ghost cornered a character can be even more chilling.
Overall, I still cannot call The Medium a badly made film. It knows how to make an engaging story, and it uses multiple old horror tricks and shows you can still make something new out of the old. But it also should have been more selective about what tricks it decided to reuse. In this case, the overemphasis on gore and explicitness brings down the overall package. That is one ghost of the past that it should have exorcised.
The Medium (Rang Zong) is now available to watch on digital and on demand.