Director: Michael Biehn
Screenplay: Michael Biehn
Based on a story by: Reed Lackey
Starring: Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc, Ryan Honey, Danielle Harris
Producers: Jennifer Blanc & Lorna Paul
Running Time: 80 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
This last month or two I’ve been focussing on the classier end of the spectrum with my film reviews. I even managed to skip writing up a Weekend of Trash not so long ago, which is sacrilege I know, but I had too many ‘respectable’ films on my ‘needs reviewing’ pile. However, there are only so many Turin Horse’s and Women Under the Influence that one man can handle without losing the will to live (as great as they are, those films are heavy going). So when I got offered The Victim to review on Blu-Ray, I thought ‘why the hell not?’ The directorial debut of Michael Biehn (if you don’t count The Blood Bond which he co-directed and semi-disowned after losing control over the final cut), The Victim sounded like an intriguing prospect. An underrated cult-icon of an actor who has worked with a number of great action and horror directors has surely learned a thing or two about where to point a camera and what to do with a cast.
Sadly that’s not the case, although I don’t want to be too harsh on the guy – he’s clearly put a lot into this and it’s well intentioned.
Anyway, before I rip into it or try to defend it, lets describe the plot: Kyle (Biehn himself) is trying to settle down and relax in his lonely shack hidden in the forest. That is until the arrival of Annie (Jennifer Blanc a.k.a. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Michael’s wife and producer of the film). She comes banging on his door one night in hysterics after discovering her friend murdered at the hands of one of the police officers they were enjoying a weekend retreat with. Fearing her own safety after hearing their plans for her, she ran to the nearest sign of civilisation, Kyle’s cabin. After the officers, led by Harrison (Ryan Honey), appear at his door, Kyle decides to help Annie. From here on, the role of The Victim switches around as each party will stop at nothing to get what they want.
Advertised as a grindhouse film I was expecting a trashy bit of fun, but was surprised to find that The Victim is actually more of a dialogue-heavy character piece. Usually this would be a good thing of course, and Biehn should be applauded for trying to produce something a little meatier than the usual throwaway genre effort. Unfortunately the execution is nowhere near strong enough to pull this off though. The script is probably the main problem. The dialogue is rather bland and merely functional, with too much emphasis on making sense of characters’ actions and not on giving them any substance or charisma. Some poor signposting is clunkily inserted in there too, making a potentially effective final twist painfully predictable. The direction is rather flat too, with the few ‘set-pieces’ never coming alive and the film’s visuals looking a little too clean and uninspired.
There are attempts to pander to the cult-movie geeks that are likely to pick the film up. There are a couple of subtle movie references here and there and to up the sleaze factor there is a lot of sex, if not that much violence. How this is a 15 I’m not sure, as there is plenty of flesh on display and a particularly nasty bit of gore at the end. But don’t go into this expecting Planet Terror 2, this is a quieter, slower paced affair, if not particularly cerebral.
There are moments when the film does work. The scenes between Annie and her friend Mary (Danielle Harris), shown in multiple flashbacks, are actually quite effective. It turns out that Jennifer and Danielle are good friends in real life and this shows in scenes where they hang out and shoot the shit. Unfortunately most of these scenes aren’t all that necessary and don’t drive the plot along, which at a sparse 80 minutes still feels drawn out.
As an idea The Victim could have worked. Given to maybe Tarantino it could have been an interesting spin on the ‘hunted in the woods’ formula, but as saddened as I am to say it, Michael Biehn just doesn’t have the writing or directing abilities to pull it off. It is his first proper effort and they were hampered by budget and time restrictions, so maybe next time he can rise to the challenge, but he’s got a bit of work to do first.
The Victim is out on 24th September on Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Anchor Bay. The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray is strong.
Now I’ve given a separate rating below for the Blu-Ray itself, because although I was disappointed with the film, the special features are worth a look on their own. You don’t get a lot of them, just a 25 minute behind the scenes documentary and a commentary, but these are very interesting and enjoyable to watch. I’ve always got a soft spot for features on low budget films and this was certainly low budget by the sounds and looks of things. Mr and Mrs. Biehn have clearly put their hearts and souls into this project, pulling in favours and working tight schedules and minimal funding to produce the film they wanted. The documentary doesn’t pull any punches either – as much of a small tight-knit family atmosphere they had on set, Biehn is still rather fiery. Not in a nasty way I guess, but he certainly lets people know when he doesn’t like something.
The commentary is a great listen too, with the Biehns sitting together going through the film and how it came to be. Being husband and wife, the chemistry of course is strong and they’re quite honest with each other, if a little over-pleased with the end result when compared with my feelings.
So, I wouldn’t expect much from the film itself, but if you really must watch The Victim at least the extra bits and pieces you get with the Blu-Ray or DVD are recommended.