Judge Patrick Bromley's new book, The Modern Feminist Slasher Victim: From Puberty to Menopause, is available now at retailers nationwide.
Our review of The Victim (2006), published January 18th, 2008, is also available.
Even bad girls need protection.
Get ready for the directorial debut of Kyle Reese.
Facts of the Case
Kyle (Michael Biehn, The Terminator) is a loner, leading a quiet life of soul searching and self-help, in a remote cabin in the woods. However, all of that comes to a screeching halt when Annie (Jennifer Blanc, The Divide) arrives on his doorstep, panicked, terrified, and screaming for help. It seems she and her party girlfriend, Mary (Danielle Harris, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), were on a date with two cops from the sheriff's department (Ryan Honey, Saving Lincoln; Denny Kirkwood, Never Been Kissed) when things went horribly, horribly wrong. Now, Kyle is torn between protecting Mary and taking revenge on two guys who have it coming.
Michael Biehn's The Victim is too much of one thing and not enough of another—a confused movie that wants to be a trashy exploitation flick, but backs down from going too far just when that's right where it should be going. Encouraged by his Planet Terror director Robert Rodriguez to write and direct his own Grindhouse-style exploitation picture, Biehn came up with The Victim, shot on the quick for under $1 million. Unfortunately, instead of being a straightforward revenge movie, it's this weird other thing that almost stands on its own, until you realize that any of its uniqueness is accidental.
For its first hour, The Victim is refreshingly unpredictable, in that there aren't any real indications as to which way it's going to go. Biehn's loner character is a big question mark, and our past experience watching horror movies tells us we're going to find things out that will bring the narrative into focus. That's kind of how the whole movie is, actually; we think it's one thing because we assume that it is strategically withholding something, but it turns out it's just undercooked. It's sleazy, but not sleazy enough. It's violent, but not violent enough. There aren't enough standout moments in the first hour to make the pacing work, but it's also not a slow-burn horror movie, in which two acts are spent setting everything up so that the movie can go totally nuts in the third. Yes, things pick up a little and horror fans finally get some of the gore they're looking for, but there aren't enough twists or payoffs to make the first hour work. The movie wants to play some games with audience identification and make us question exactly who the "victim" of the title really is, but it never explores those ideas…even on a surface level.
While it wouldn't be fair to apply feminist criticism to The Victim (the regular rules don't really apply to exploitation movies, even when they come up short in actually being one), it's impossible to ignore a lot of the subtext in the film, which leaves a bad taste beyond the one it aims for. Even the tagline, about how bad girls need protection, is insulting; in practice, it's even worse. The women in the movie are seen in almost pure sexual terms, that is when they're not being threatened, attacked, or (in some cases) murdered. Biehn is mostly conscious of this (at least based on some of what he says in the director's commentary included on the disc), but that doesn't change the result. It's possible to make a sleazy exploitation movie that is still (in a way,) empowering towards its female characters—or at the very least completely aware of its gender politics. The Victim doesn't seem to be one of them.
The Victim gets the HD treatment courtesy of Anchor Bay, a studio that typically does good work with horror titles. The 1.78:1/1080p widescreen presentation looks solid, with strong detail and no visible defects. If there's an issue with the presentation, it's one of photography and not of transfer—Biehn almost exclusively uses day-for-night photography (in which nighttime scenes are shot in the day and then tinted a kind of fake-looking bluish color in order to give the appearance of darkness), giving the whole picture an unintentionally artificial look. The good news is that even though it's a dark movie, there aren't any problems with crushing or fine detail getting obscured. The lossless TrueHD 5.1 Surround track is functional, attempting to overcompensate for a slow, talky narrative with the occasional sting, while keeping the dialogue front and center.
Biehn and his co-star/producer/wife Jennifer Blanc sit down for a commentary track that is, at times, more interesting than the movie itself. Both are very forthcoming about the filmmaking process, giving some interesting production information and telling stories from the set; the fact that they're married gives the conversation an added dimension that's interesting. I was expecting things to get weird during the too-long and graphic sex scene, but they remain pretty matter-of-fact (and, in the case of Biehn, a little self congratulatory). It's a good talk. The only other bonus feature is a standard making-of featurette.
The final few seconds of The Victim hint at a direction that a better movie might have gone. While it's actually an effective last scene (movies that end well convince us they're better than they actually are), it's equally frustrating—the movie's best idea comes at the very end. That's The Victim in a nutshell: some good ideas, things that work here and there (Biehn's central performance chief among them), but a disappointment overall.
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