Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Victim (2011) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Worn and world-weary, with his self-help CDs and his books, Kyle (Michael Biehn) has very good reasons for preferring the solitary life in his cabin in the woods. Given what the actor's previous characters have been through, being terrorised by Aliens and The Terminator, this seems entirely appropriate. But when a terrified young woman comes knocking in the middle of the night, his simple world is turned upside down. She tells him her friend has been murdered. She has corrupt, killer cops on her trail. Can he trust her? Can she trust him? And will either of them escape the wrath of her pursuers?
The Victim is very much a family affair. Biehn and Jennifer Blanc, who plays the young woman, are married in real life. Assorted friends and relatives make up the remaining cast and crew, plus John Biehn is credited simply as 'brother' and there's a mention for the family dog, Indy, who presumably helped with morale. That was doubtless important, given the small budget (approximately $800,000) and the challenges involved in shooting entirely on location. It's a film with significant problems but as a first time effort it doesn't do too badly, and there are moments when it shines.
Many first-timers screw up by taking on too much story to fit coherently within their running time. Here the problem is the opposite. The idea could work pretty well, but it's let down by poor structure and pacing that lets tension dissipate too easly; this is compounded by frequent flashbacks to the heroine's happy city life. There she worked as a dancer, one of those character professions that gets chosen for its glamour value without much thought about how it shapes the body - she ought to be able to acquit herself much better in the film's various fights. Both Blanc and Biehn inhabit their characters well but struggle with the latter's clumsy dialogue. Yes, some of this is deliberate homage to the grindhouse genre but too often it's annoying rather than funny, and when it reaches the point where exposition is provided with a special explanation of why it's important, one despairs. There's also a serious problem with plot expediency taking priority over realism, with characters left waiting around for the chance to escape rather than simply being shot on the spot.
If you can overlook these difficulties, the action is something different altogether. Where most new directors struggle, Biehn handles it like a seasoned pro, delivering some genuinely punchy sequences. Ryan Honey provides a low-rent principal villain, again hampered by the script but, where it works, more disturbing because of his ordinariness. He's no mutant outcast or psychologically scarred veteran, just a self-centered man with a violent temper. Their final conflict is well choreographed and pleasingly realistic - not about sophisticated moves but about two men slugging it out with whatever comes to hand.
There are practially no surprises in this film and it's a shame not to get a real twist at the end, just the one that's obvious from early on. Still, it's visually imaginative in places and, flashbacks aside, effectively atmospheric. There's a rawness to it that suits the story. Horror fans may be disappointed by the relative shortage of gore but there is quite a bit of violence and that other genre staple, nudity (Biehn really is in good shape in his fifties; it's a shame he didn't make the cut for The Expendables). The Victim is unlikely to become anyone's favourite but it's a decent first stab at the genre that doesn't over-reach itself and that, it would seem, no-one involved ever intended viewers to take too seriously.Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2012