The Victim [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (22nd October 2012).
The Film

As much as I like to pretend I’m an elitist snob, and as often as I’ve been called one in regards to some of my thoughts on films and filmmaking in general, I admit, I have a fondness for trash cinema. From camp to classless gore-fests, I’ll give anything a shot. I say that to help you better understand why one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve ever had at the movies—well, not physically at the movies, because the 3-hour opus of awesomeness that is “Grindhouse” (2007) was yanked from my market in its full form, and I boycotted the theatrical re-releases of the split up, extended, films on principle—was seeing Michael Biehn as the stern sheriff with a shotgun in Robert Rodriquez’s utterly insane half of the bloody “Grindhouse” double feature, “Planet Terror” (2007). I kinda love that junky little movie, mostly because I hadn’t seen Biehn in anything in years (and I’d heard nothing of his badass role because of my self-imposed media blackout surrounding the film). Biehn’s a cool dude, and he’s played some great characters in his time—which is why it’s a disappointment that he hasn’t been in more, and better, things, and why his sudden and unexpected appearance as a supporting character in a wacky movie was so welcomed. And I fully admit, my fascination with crummy, low-budget, things that are mostly bad, and my fondness for the actor, are probably why I found Biehn’s directorial debut, “The Victim”, to be pretty decent… in a certain context.

I’ve always found the path Biehn’s career took to be a bit odd, in that he kind of dropped off the earth (into a pit of bad C and D-movies) after the late 90's, despite being a pretty notable name in the 80's and very early 90's. Rising to fame as James Cameron’s go-to male lead in The King of Two Worlds’ earliest movies (Cameron’s unofficial 80's action/sci-fi trilogy: “The Terminator” (1984), “Aliens” (1986) and “The Abyss” (1989)), Biehn had the misfortune of having his most famous characters downgraded to discarded cameos in the sequels of those first two Cameron films (he’s only in the Special Edition of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), and was completely written out of “Alien3" (1992), his character killed off screen because the producers of that troubled, troubled tale didn’t want to pay him money they already spent making a wooden planet). Still, Biehn used the last bit of pull he had from the parts of Kyle Reese and Corporal Hicks to secure memorable roles in a few other flicks—namely in “Tombstone” (1993), where he played the slimy Johnny Ringo. But, by the turn of the century, he’d faded from the silver screen, and the actor’s attempted transition to TV failed miserably—no one watched three of his short-lived series, and they were all cancelled within a season or so due to low ratings. Soon, Biehn was playing bit parts in mostly terrible stuff most people have never even heard of. He seems fine with that, if you listen to him talk, and I’m sort of fine with it too.

Mind you, that’s because, although his career took a dive, that doesn’t mean the man suddenly forgot how to act—or that the badassness he built up playing Reese, Hicks, or Ringo had lessened at all. So, when Biehn showed up in “Grindhouse”, although seeing him was a surprise, it was not at all surprising when he totally stole the show. According to Biehn’s commentary on “The Victim”— and the film’s trivia section on IMDB, which took this tidbit from that track—the actor got the idea of his latest film—a gritty, low-budget, kind of campy, largely crummy affair, which he co-wrote, directed, and stars in—while on the set of “Grindhouse”, from various conversations with Rodriquez between takes. Rodriquez told Biehn he should make his own grindhouse film. With “The Victim”, Biehn now has.

Shot on a budget of $800,000, based on a script Biehn wrote in a few days, and filmed essentially in the hills surrounding the actor’s home in an equally brief amount of time, “The Victim” is not—at least, conventionally—what one would call a “good movie”. But it is, I think, a creative success, in that it is seemingly intentionally cheap, sleazy, gross, and kind of bad. It’s a film filled with overly-sexualized and obviously exploited women playing whorish strippers (one played by Biehn’s own wife, actress Jennifer Blanc), disgusting and rape-y police officers (Ryan Honey, Denny Kirkwood), and one badass loner named, of all names, Kyle (Biehn); there’s brutal gore and unhinged violence, explicit and almost comically excessive nudity and sex, and most of the time, a total lack of what could be considered a sense of good taste. (For instance, the film opens on a cheesy sex scene with porno-esque acting and dialogue, but quickly turns into a graphic rape and murder, which is how one of the strippers, played by Danielle Harris, is killed, setting the story in motion. Note: characters consume a buttload of “blow” shortly thereafter.) It’s not as fun as “Planet Terror”, which, if not a particularly good piece of aesthetically accurate grindhouse, was still a hilarious good-time, but “The Victim” is a better, more truthful, slice of exploitation cinema, in that its kind of... brilliantly bad. It's a slow-burn, building towards an almost unfulfilling pay off, and it subverts audience expectations and certain horror genre conventions at every turn over the first two acts. It's third act devolves into weirdness. Again, I hesitate to say that it’s a good movie, because it’s so clearly not—however, Biehn certainly knows what he’s doing, and does what I'm almost positive he means to do, well. There’s a raw, gritty, micro-budget, fiercely independent streak to this movie—and for that, I admire it, on a filmmaking level, just a little bit.

There's a calculated quality (of crappiness?) to the movie. The story, which unfolds at an uneven—at times glacial, at others rapid—pace over the course of 83-minutes, is almost purposefully nonexistent. Annie, the surviving stripper played by Biehn’s wife, witnesses the rape and murder of her friend at the hands of the abusive, power-corrupt, cops, and while fleeing them in the forest, comes across the reclusive Kyle, who lives out in the middle of nowhere… in an archetypical cabin in the woods as it were. Taking the girl in, Kyle listens as Annie relays the ruthlessness of what happened to her friend (told in fractured flashbacks, most of which seem random and nonsensical), and then decides to protect her at all costs when the two lecherous lawmen come knocking on his door.

Biehn plays his part of the ruggedly handsome, reclusive, reluctant hero well, as well as he has his other similar roles; and he proves to be a very competent director (in a technical sense), displaying an unusually firm-grasp of the medium, something typically unseen in the work of a first timer (then again, although “The Victim” is his first credit as director, Biehn has been in the business of making movies in one way or another for the better part of 35 years). He’s able to get decent performances from the rest of his, inexperienced, cast. He stages the action well, mounts a few impressive set pieces, and seems to have used every last cent in his budget to make the film feel as appropriately roughly polished as possible.

“The Victim” is not an exceptional film, but it’s a decent one. And Biehn has crafted a solid grindhouse-ian yarn—it’s gritty, grimy, gross, but sorta-kinda “bad yet good”, at least in a certain context. If boobs, blood and Biehn don’t sound appealing, I doubt very much you’ll get anything from this movie. But if that combo sounds even remotely appealing, “The Victim” is worth checking out.

Video

Anchor Bay grants “The Victim” a good but not great 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps high definition transfer; one that does what it can with a troubled source. In his commentary, Biehn estimates that 80 percent of the film was processed day-for-night—meaning most of the film was shot in the middle of the day, but color-corrected and blue filtered to appear as though the events unfold in the middle of the night. Biehn did this because he didn’t have the budget for elaborate lighting rigs, and because the falseness also works in the favor of that cheap, grimy grindhouse aesthetic. In light of those comments, the resulting image—digitally captured at 4K via the ever-popular RED One camera system—is quite the curious thing then. On one hand, the picture seems a bit too slick, too obvious in its digital sheen, to really sell the rough look you expect; it’s too sharp and detailed, too clean. On the other, the tweaked but not overly inauthentic digitally captured footage makes for a nicer viewing experience than, say, 16mm film, or digital-processed-to-look-like-grainy-film might. (The decision to play it fairly straight with the digital, and not really attempt to mimic a dirty 35mm print is also smart, because I’d rather not have to deal with Rodriquez-levels of faux print damage, and I didn’t here.) Unfortunately, because of the filtering, blacks are never quite true—a bit too blue—and the daylight is tinted too, towards green and yellow, flattening contrast and leaving the picture without much pop. Still, the AVC MPEG-4 encode is fairly solid, with no noticeable instances of banding, blocking, artificial sharpening or other artifacts. “The Victim” isn’t a pretty picture by design, but it’s a more watchable and consistent one than certain other low-budget films of this type.

Audio

“The Victim” pounds down you door with a bass-heavy English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix (48kHz/24-bit). The track is a tad light on subtle atmosphere from the rears (perhaps by design), although those speakers don’t stay totally silent. And the mix doesn’t have the meticulousness or vigorous finesse to its action that a big-budget production would possess. But dialogue is always intelligible, and the low-fi, bass-boosted industrial/synth soundtrack by Jeehun Hwang will give your sub a workout. The disc also includes optional English and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

It seems “The Victim” is a really stripped-down affair in other regards as well, even in its home video release: Anchor Bay hasn’t even crammed any bonus trailers in front of the main menu. It’s surprising then that the disc has two very decent extras—an audio commentary with Michael Biehn and his wife/co-star, which might actually be better than the movie it compliments, and a near-half hour making of featurette. The disc is also authored with a bookmarks function.

Despite being buried in the audio set up menu—an annoying quirk I’d wish Anchor Bay would abandon—the audio commentary with writer/director/actor Michael Biehn and producer/actor Jennifer Blanc (Biehn) is a surprisingly engaging track, and the Biehn’s share plenty of interesting details and fun anecdotes about the production. The director and wife team talk about the low-budget grindhouse qualities of the film and how the project came into being, the indie production process, the particulars of shooting several sequences, the score, taking the film on the festival circuit, eventually getting picked up by Anchor Bay, and more.

“‘The Victim’: Behind the Scenes” (1080p, 24 minutes 24 seconds) is an above average making-of featurette, competently comprised of on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Much more palatable than the usual EPK, essentially, this is a condensed version of the commentary with more varied input from additional members of the production. Many of the stories shared in the commentary are repeated here, but overall this is a decent piece.

Packaging

“The Victim” is a no-frills release from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. The region A-locked BD-25 is packaged in an Elite-eco keep case.

Overall

Boobs. Blood. Biehn. “The Victim” is certainly trashy, but not terrible in a particular context. Michael Biehn makes a solid directorial debut here, working on a small budget, with meager means and material, managing to make a grindhouse movie that’s fairly decent, and pretty pure in spirit. The Blu-ray from Anchor Bay has good but not great A/V and two above average extras. Worth a look.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: B Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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