“The Victim” marks the directorial debut of actor Michael Biehn whom we all know and love from his kick ass roles in movies like “The Terminator,” “Aliens” and “The Abyss” among many others. You’d think he would try something obscenely ambitious having worked with James Cameron all those times, but here he’s just out to make a sleazy grindhouse movie which aims to be something you shouldn’t take the least bit seriously. On that level, “The Victim” turns out to be a lot of fun, and Biehn succeeds in making the most of its very low budget.
Biehn stars as Kyle, a man who lives in a remote cabin tucked as far away into the woods as that cabin from the “Evil Dead” movies was. When we first meet him, we see he is trying to put his life back together after serving time in jail. Kyle’s peace and quiet, however, is suddenly disrupted by the appearance of Annie (Biehn’s wife Jennifer Blanc) who ends up at his front door begging to be let in. It turns out that Annie and her BFF Mary (horror genre favorite Danielle Harris) were partying with some cops when one of them ended up killing Mary, and this has Annie running for her life.
The cops, Harrison (Ryan Honey) and Coogan (Denny Kirkwood), end up searching for Annie and that leads them to Kyle’s doorstep, and from there all sorts of shit hits the fan as these characters battle for the upper hand in a tremendously screwed up situation.
One of the things I found most intriguing about “The Victim” was the title itself. From the start you’d think that it is referring to Mary who meets a shockingly unfortunate end, but that quickly changes. This is the kind of story where everyone gets hurt and comes out with some nasty scars, and eventually it makes you wonder who the victim here really is. Annie is a victim of her own vices, but she also uses her sexuality to get power over men. Kyle could be seen as a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we found out more about him through his brutal actions as the movie goes on. As for the cops, they revel in the power they think they have, but they quickly prove to be weak at the knees when the tables are turned.
In addition to directing “The Victim,” Biehn also wrote the screenplay. This movie is by no means original, but he does good work in keeping the audience guessing as to what will happen next. One side looks to have control of the situation, but the tables are turned before you know it. Even if you think you know how the movie will end, you’ll see that it goes to darkness at the perfect moment.
Another thing I got a huge kick out of was the dichotomy between the character’s lives and how their actions come to define them more than their professions. Annie and Mary are dancers and strippers who indulge in sex and drugs, but they also prove to be stronger human beings than the men surrounding them. Even if you don’t approve of what they do, you have to admit that they have an unmistakable power over the men who foolishly believe they are the stronger sex.
The men (Harrison and Coogan specifically) think that their job as police detectives gives them a power which allows them to get away with their illegal (not to mention immoral) actions. But when all is said and done, the power they think they possess appears to be a smokescreen as their weaknesses are magnified when it comes to the opportunity of getting laid. It almost shouldn’t be a surprise that sex ends up being the undoing for these cops as it has undone men of far better character and stature time and time again.
After all these years, Biehn’s remains a truly awesome actor. His performance as Kyle is terrific in that he doesn’t give away all of his character’s secrets, and he is riveting as a character who proves that he’s not one to be easily be f---ed with. It’s been a long time since “Aliens,” but Biehn proves that he still has the good to play a bad ass you should know better than to mess with.
Blanc is also very good as Annie as she has to make the transition from helpless victim to powerful female in a short period of time, and she succeeds in doing so. One moment she needs the help of anybody she can find, and the next moment she reduces Kyle to jelly as she correctly surmises that he’s attracted to her. It’s always fun to see a character like hers evolve the way she does.
Not enough can be said about Harris who has long since become one of the reigning horror queens in movies. No matter what role she takes on, Harris gives a performance of supreme confidence which allows her to inhabit her characters with seemingly little difficulty. Harris has been acting since she was a little girl, and she has long since proven her ability to portray various emotions without words. The male characters think they have the best of her, but she doesn’t even have to tell us how much better she is than they are.
“The Victim” does show a bit of first film jitters, and much of that is the result of Biehn working with a very short shooting schedule (12 days) and a seriously low budget. Both Kirkwood and Honey are good here, but they tend to overact in certain scenes. Some lines of dialogue are so ridiculous (“I don’t even know how I got involved in this situation!”) that you wonder if they were meant to sound so silly. The movie was also shot with a Red One camera which ends up making its low budget origins all the more apparent.
But you know what? “The Victim” is a movie that you can easily get too critical of as it is meant to be the equivalent of a good fast food meal; it may not be nutritious, but you will remember how you enjoyed eating it. Biehn does very well with what he has to work with, and he adds nice touches throughout. There’s also a great moment after the opening credits (which look like the ones from “Seven”) that I don’t want to spoil here, but it does deal with one of my biggest pet peeves in movies today.
It’s those clever touches as well as the strong acting from Biehn and others which make “The Victim” stand out from other movies of its kind. Seeing it makes me look forward to whatever he ends up directing next, and hopefully he will get a bigger budget to work with next time.
* * * out of * * * *