MOVIE – “The Victim” (2011)
DIRECTOR – Michael Biehn
WRITER – Michael Biehn (screenplay), Reed Lackey (story)
SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
- Actor Danielle Harris can be seen in 1991′s “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead”, along with John Getz. Mr. Getz would later be seen in “Zodiac” (2007), as directed by David Fincher. Mr. Fincher also made his feature debut directing 1992′s “Alien3″, which, instead of Sigourney Weaver, almost starred… Michael Biehn!
- Speaking of Danielle Harris, both her and actor J.C. Brandy share a commonality: they both played the role of Jamie Lloyd in “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” (1988) (Harris), “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” (1989) (Harris), and “Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers” (1995) (Brandy).
On February 10, 2011, Michael Biehn “victimized” Edmonton, AB. Seeing as that’s where I live, I figured I should experience the special double-bill showing of two new films, both starring the actor in question, Michael Biehn (of “Aliens”, “The Terminator”, “Planet Terror”). Not only did Mr. Biehn star in both new films, but he happened to have directed and screenplay-ified one: 2011′s “The Victim”. And while the other film, “The Divide” (also ’11) is due its own extensive discourse and review, today we shall focus on “The Victim”.
One’s primary fascination with this film, and arguably the primary reason for anyone to see “The Victim” to begin with, is that Biehn didn’t merely screenwrite and direct it: he went full on D.I.Y. With limited resources and time, and a small, devoted and familial cast and crew wearing many production hats, “The Victim” was conceived and created in less than two weeks, for less than a thousand dollars. The impetus behind this ramshackle endeavour was pure associative inspiration; after working with director Robert Rodriguez on 2007′s “Planet Terror”, Biehn was left wholly impressed by Rodriguez’s longstanding and far-reaching beliefs and promulgations towards independent filmmaking. Lovers of the genre are often knowing of and bemused by the story behind Rodriguez’s explosive D.I.Y. starter, “El Mariachi” (1992): the man took stock of what he had at his disposal, and with not much more than a guitar, a turtle, and a credit card, proceeded to kick down the door to Hollywood action filmmaking.
Our story begins with a little walking-trail lovin’ in wooded California, and the accidental-or-not death of a stripper (Mary, played by Danielle Harris) at the hands of high-ranking police official Harrison, played by Burt-Lancaster-fathers-Casey-Affleck-looking Ryan Honey. After a lengthy “The Shining”-esque (Biehn admits this) driving sequence, Michael Biehn’s character, Kyle, comes home to his nearby cabin for some book reading and e-meditation. A scared-witless blonde woman (Annie, played by Jennifer Blanc-Biehn) is soon banging at his door, apparently on the run from the aforementioned Harrison and his police partner, Cooger (Denny Kirkwood). Kyle hastily decides to hide Annie once Harrison and Cooger show up not long after. Trips are made back to the scene of the crime, torture and fight sequences are exchanged, an open-ended plot twist is utilized (and well-delivered), and we’re done!
I hasten to encapsulate things so brusquely here, but, truth be told, it’s a fairly brusque film to begin with. It doesn’t feel fast, if only because of a few unnecessarily drawn out driving and flashback sequences, but all in all there’s not much to the story. A viewer’s first experience with “The Victim” will actually have you expecting some sort of twist by the end, and so you find yourself questioning characters and their motives. Who really killed who? Who really is innocent, and who are the victims? Herein lies a major strength of the film, if only within the first viewing: a quizzical whodunnit unfolding before all the dunnit’s are even dun. With a conspiracy theorist outlook, one can envision all sorts of possibilities. Are the cops really the villains? Did certain characters ever exist to begin with? And of course the most obvious question so obvious it answers itself: There has to be more to Biehn’s character than meets the eye.
Unfortunately, a lot of these potentialities end up non-existent, though not necessarily leaving the movie at fault. Any weaknesses in story and plot are, truth be told, fairly miniscule. It’s a simple story, and largely told well. If anything it’s dialogue and delivery thereof that can be off-putting. So many little moments of speech come off as poorly or unnecessarily written, and in turn performed with unnecessary pretence or lack of restraint. Blanc-Biehn and Honey are the chief proprietors as such, if only because neither have much acting experience to begin with. Just the same, this is Michael Biehn’s directorial debut, and so he can really only extract so much talent, even from himself; both Biehn’s character and performance are uneven, though one could connect this with the twist ending. Ultimately the “Best Performance” credit goes to Danielle Harris, if only because she’s been acting since 1987, at age ten.
Visually speaking, “The Victim” is strong and consistent. Despite the 12 day production, everything from photography to lighting to action and driving sequences just plain looks tight. The film is pretty well evenly placed in broad daylight or dead of night, and filmed day-for-night anyway. The difference ends up negligible, as most night sequences are filled with taut, suspense dialogue and outright action. Biehn’s character even pokes a bit of fun at the cost effective day-for-night technique, by saying, “The moon is so bright I could read a book if I had one!” Aesthetically speaking, the audio is perhaps one of the film’s greatest strengths. Scoring and sound effects are mixed with warmth and appropriate volume, and custom made background music is charming and, oddly enough, age appropriate to the cast in terms of genre.
The pre-and-post- screening talks from Biehn (and some of the cast and crew) served to shed some amusing, fascinating, and D.I.Y.-inspiring insights to the film. On a strange note, Biehn prefaced the screening by asking the crowd to “not take it too seriously”, tying to the press release insistence that this is a “grindhouse” style movie. I can’t say I wholly agree with that vibe, but more confusing was Biehn’s preface. It seemed we were to expect “The Victim” to either be a black comedy, or a so-bad-it’s-good drive-in experience. And while there were several moments, primarily of over-the-top dialogue, where the crowd did end up laughing, I couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward. Was Biehn implying that there were some not-so-good acting moments, and thus saving himself some post-screening embarrassment (or review)?
What was most impressive about both the film and Biehn’s post-screening talk was his embracing of indie filmmaking culture. At age 56, it was very endearing to hear the man speak so encouragingly toward this new generation of aspiring storytellers who can make professional-looking productions with relatively cheap means, and exploit easy publicity viewership by way of the world wide web. Just remember, kids: if Cpl. Hicks can do it, so too you!
RATING – 3.5 police moustaches out of 5
STINGER – “I could read a book out here if I had one!”