If you have not already seen The Medium, the first thing I want to urge you to do is PLEASE GO WATCH IT NOW! And then mosey on back here and let’s talk about it!
(But I am honor-bound to tell you that you need to check doesthedogdie.com before you watch it–and yes, it does– because I would never knowingly inflict that sort of viewing experience on my sweet, sensitive friends.)
In The Medium, a documentary team follows a pragmatic shaman named Nim in a remote village in Northern Thailand and who is now probably one of my favorite movie characters of all time. Nim works as a bridge of communication between the townspeople and their goddess, Ba Yan, and she is also on call to cure their spiritual ailments. Sicknesses from the “unseen,” as she stresses to the film crew when they ask her if she can heal all illnesses, and then deadpans, “If you come to me for cancer, you’re probably going to die,” I love her!
Being possessed by the goddess is an inherited gig, and it was not actually meant to be Nim’s calling, as we find out. Nim’s elder sister, Noi was next in line for the role but declined. We learn as the movie progresses that she did more than this in order for the goddess to pass her over in favor of her sister, some sort of supernatural “take her instead!” business. It worked, and perhaps for the best, as Nim actually grew to enjoy her job as spiritual advisor and conduit.
Mink, Nim’s niece (Noi’s daughter) begins showing signs that she will inherit the role as the area’s next shaman. Over time, however, Mink’s bizarre behavior becomes more erratic–extremely frightening in fact– and hints that within Mink is not the benign goddess that they worship, but something else entirely.
This is a film that takes some time to ramp up, so be patient and settle in, because when it gets going, it’s a wild ride. The first act is an engaging family tale, the second is more or less glimpses at the progression of classic possession, and the third…well, it’s fucking bananas. If you enjoyed films such as 2016’s The Wailing, you’ll probably find yourself compelled to watch this one, and that would make sense because I believe there is a similar director/producer involved.
Even if you’re not a fan of possession/exorcism films or zombie gorefests (which is not exactly what this film is? but it’s also not…not this film?) you might be interested in its themes of faith and belief, karma, and curses; you might be drawn in by the family drama and richly realized characters; or you may be intrigued by the remote, rural, and eerie but utterly breathtaking locations. The Medium has a lot to recommend itself, and no wonder it currently stands as the 6th highest-grossing Korean film of 2021.
The screen stills I grabbed from the film and used for this post are not exactly representative of the entire film, so don’t get the idea that it’s all as peaceful and idyllic as these images suggest. I just didn’t want to give too much away! Plus they were pretty.