September 16, 2012

Filthy Review - 'The Victim'

The Victim (2011)

Review by Jeff Konopka

A lot of actors have made the jump to writing and/or directing their own features. Clint Eastwood comes to mind as one of the best examples of an actor turned auteur. Back in Eastwood's heyday, this wasn't all too common, but these days, with the convenience of digital equipment and affordable editing software, we are seeing an increasing number of actors moving behind the camera. One of the latest is Michael Biehn, who has been acting in genre films for years, but who made his debut in 2010 as co-director of the action flick, BLOOD BOND. Apparently, Biehn enjoyed the experience, as he has returned with THE VICTIM, a genre thriller that he wrote, directed, and starred in. I’ve been a fan of Biehn since I first saw him in THE TERMINATOR as a kid, so I was really looking forward to seeing THE VICTIM; especially after his great performances in Stephen Mena’s BEREAVMENT, and more recently, Xavier Gens’ THE DIVIDE. Unfortunately, while his performance in THE VICTIM is good, I found Biehn’s first solo directorial effort to be a mixed bag.

Without giving much away, THE VICTIM is the story of a stripper named Annie (played by Biehn's real-life wife, Jennifer Blanc) who gets more than she bargained for when she heads into the woods with her friend, Mary (the lovely Danielle Harris), and two Sheriff's Deputies, Harrison and Cooger (played by Ryan Honey and Denny Kirkwood, respectively) to do some partying. In true genre fashion, Mary ends up dead due to an accident that occurs at the hands of Harrison while they are having some "fun." Not wanting to risk his career, Harrison promptly convinces Cooger that they need to dispose of the body and tie up any loose ends; including Annie.

After overhearing this bit of information, Annie flees into the woods to try and escape from the men. As Harrison and Cooger pursue her, she comes across a cabin inhabited by a reclusive hermit named Kyle (played by Biehn), whom she begs to help her. Though not quite convinced of Annie’s story, Kyle decides to hide her when the Deputies come knocking. However, Kyle soon finds himself wrapped up in the violence as the Deputies continue their pursuit and both his and Annie’s past come back to haunt them.

Though all of the marketing surrounding this film seems to label it as a Grindhouse-style throwback, I found it be more of a dark B-Movie thriller. Sure, it has all of the staples of Grindhouse cinema – sex, drugs, violence, etc. – but the film rarely ever gives us any of them in gratuitous amounts, and it presents them in a manner that is more stylistic than exploitative. This didn’t bother me, but folks expecting something along the lines of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE will likely be disappointed. Instead, my problems with THE VICTIM stem more from the film’s lack of tension, some mixed performances from the supporting cast, and an ending that tries to be revelatory, but that feels more like it was just dropped in there to try and pull the rug out from under the audience (something that it fails to accomplish).

That’s not to say that THE VICTIM is a terrible film. As B-Movies go – and make no mistake, this is a B-Movie – it is competently shot and (mostly) well acted. Filmed digitally on a RED camera, the movie looks clean (another betrayal of the “Grindhouse” moniker that is being bestowed on it) and features some great scenery and creative shot composition. On the acting front, Biehn does a great job in front of the camera (as he usually does), and Blanc is convincing as the bad girl who’s not really all that bad. The third-billed Harris is good as well (and nice to look at, as usual), though her character is disposed of in the very opening of the film, and the rest of her screen time is in flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the remainder of the run time. As such, she’s not much of a presence, and even though her character is pivotal to the story initially, there is little for her to do here after the opening scenes. My only complaints with the acting lie with Honey’s portrayal of Harrison, the “big bad” of the film. He tends to overact and chew the scenery a little too much, which would be fine if this film (and the other actors) didn’t play it so straight. The result is that his character is not ever very menacing, and that’s a real problem in a film like this, where you need feel the threat that the protagonists are up against. Instead, Harrison just comes off as a caricature of the corrupt law enforcement stereotype. Again, this would be fine if the other elements of the film were over the top as well, but sadly, they are not.

The real issue with the film, though, comes down to the script. At the end of the day, there is nothing new on display here, and for the most part, the story shows its hand too early. Right from the start, the viewer knows what happened to Mary and Annie in the woods, and that just makes all of the exposition that follows pointless beyond the standard “bad guy chasing good guy” scenario. There are multiple times throughout the film where various characters are trying to explain things away or lie to get out of situations, but all of the necessary tension is missing because the audience already knows who did what to whom. The device of using flashbacks to give back-story on the characters and events seems to have been put in place to unravel some sort of mystery, but all it does is tell us what we already know until the final part of the film, where it tries to change things up by introducing a new plot point that is paid off almost immediately. As mentioned earlier, this leads to a shrug-worthy ending that falls short of what it was trying to accomplish. Had these seeds been planted much earlier in the story, and had the information been of any consequence to the main events of the film, it may have worked. Instead, it comes across as contrived and poorly executed. It’s hard to say whether this issue is attributed to Biehn’s screenplay, or Reed Lackey’s story, but nonetheless, the film suffers because of it.

All in all, THE VICTIM is not a bad effort. Even if some aspects of it are not plausible, it’s certainly watchable, and Biehn shows that he knows how make a decent-looking film on a minimal budget, and for the most part, get some good performances out of his actors. The dialog in the screenplay is passable; however, the film’s central thesis doesn’t have much to say, and its overall storytelling is a bit clunky and feels like the movie thinks it’s cleverer than it actually is. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, it doesn’t require a lot of commitment, but in a way, that just reinforces its mediocrity. Still, there are much worse ways to spend part of a Sunday afternoon. That being said, I’d recommend a rental over a purchase, or if you can catch it streaming on Netflix or playing on cable, all the better.

The disc that I watched for this review of THE VICTIM was Anchor Bay’s Region B Blu-ray. Since the film was shot in HD using a RED camera, I expect that the video transfer is exactly as Biehn intended for the film. The image is quite clear, with a good amount of detail; even in the copious low-light scenarios throughout the film. It’s not reference quality, but for a low-budget film like this, it looks great; kudos to cinematographer Eric Curtis.

The audio on the disc is a serviceable lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. It does its job, but then again, this isn’t a very flashy film with lots of explosions or action, so don’t expect a lot of activity in the surround channels or the LFE. Again, not a disc you would use to show off your home theater, but I’d wager it sounds exactly as intended, and the track fits the movie just fine.

As for special features, there are a few of note. In addition to the standard Theatrical Trailer, Anchor Bay has also included a featurette titled, “The Making of The Victim.” Essentially, it’s just a 24-minute video featuring interviews with various cast and crew members where they praise each other and the film. Worth a watch – especially if you’re a fan – but there are no real insights offered here, and overall, it feels more like a piece of promotional material for an EPK than an honest “Making Of” feature (I’m betting this is exactly what it was). However, a much more insightful feature on the disc is the feature-length audio commentary with Biehn and Blanc. Throughout the track, the two discuss the process of shooting the film and working with the various cast and crew. It’s a fairly lively discussion with only a few dead spots, and for the most part, it’s an easy listen. There is a tad bit of awkwardness during some of Blanc’s sex scenes with other actors, but I suppose that makes sense, seeing as she and Biehn are married in real life. There are also some fun mentions of the various homages in the movie to Biehn’s previous films (one of which confirmed my suspicion of why his character was named Kyle). Again, worth a listen; especially if you are a fan of Biehn’s work or the film itself.

THE VICTIM should be available on DVD and Blu-ray to UK readers on September 24, 2012. US readers can find the Region A release from Anchor Bay a week earlier, on September 18. From what I can tell, both the DVD and the Blu-ray contain the same special features (the DVD obviously has different video and audio tracks, though), and there are no differences in the US and UK versions aside from the Region-Locking. 

The Victim is released in the UK on September 24th by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment.

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