Thailand’s official entry for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars, “The Medium,” is a supernatural horror film by Banjong Pisanthanakun. Telling the story of a family possessed by spirits in the Isan region of Thailand, the film presents the fictional tale in the style of a documentary. Posing to be a compilation of footage gathered by a documentary team and also found-footage from their cameras, the film shows extreme paranormal events while maintaining the mockumentary style with frequent intertitles explaining the situation. Although it arguably drops quality towards the latter half as horror elements start to pick up the pace, “The Medium” has its fair share of scares and gore, and is a recommendable watch for fans of the genre.
‘The Medium’ Plot Summary
The film begins with a text claiming that in 2018 a documentary team went all across Thailand studying the lives of shamans, i.e., people who supposedly act as mediums between the real world and that of the spirits. After many such interviews, they decided to focus on the life of Nim, a woman living in north-eastern Thailand who is also the shaman, or medium, for the local goddess Bayan.
Nim appears in front of the camera, as if sitting for an interview and knowing that a camera is following her around, and introduces the culture of the Isan region (northeast Thailand) with respect to spirits. She says that for the Isan people, spirits have existed all through history, perhaps even before the existence of any religion. The region has an extensive population of believers in animism, meaning that they believe every life form has a spirit, good or evil, and the worshiping of spirits commonly exists here.
Nim is the shaman of one such spirit goddess, Bayan, who she says is a good ancestral spirit protecting her village for a very long time. She goes on to explain that the spirit of Bayan had possessed women in her family over many generations. In her childhood, she had seen her grandmother possessed by the spirit, and then her aunt after the old lady’s passing. After her aunt’s passing, the next in line was her elder sister, Noi, but Noi did not want to become a shaman and declined the inheritance. Bayan then chose Nim instead and possessed her for life.
Nim now lives as the village shaman, performing rites and rituals and also helping villagers treat any spiritual or physical ailments caused by the unseen, like black magic or evil possessions. Around this time, Nim drives to attend the funeral of Noi’s husband, Wiroj, and the camera crew follows her. Noi, who had earlier lost her son Mac to a bike accident, is now left with only her daughter Mink. Noi and Nim’s elder brother Manit also lives in the same house as them, with his wife and toddler son.
After the funeral, Mink starts to behave a bit unnaturally, at first abusing and attacking one of her uncles, and then Nim sees her oddly staring at an old blind woman at night. The woman is found dead the next morning, and the documentary crew shoots Mink having jerks and convulsions in her body. They decide to follow Mink as well, and the young woman soon starts having horrible and unexplainable pain in her stomach and abdomen, along with intolerable headaches and irregular periods.
Both Noi and Nim are very familiar with these symptoms as both of them have gone through them when first possessed by Bayan, and it is also natural that Mink is next in line as Nim has no children. Noi, who had managed to free herself from the possession by changing her religion to Christianity, did not want her daughter to become a shaman. But Nim fears that it might be very difficult to avoid the goddess and keep Mink safe at the same time.
Is It Really The Spirit Of The Goddess Possessing Mink?
When the documentary crew asks Mink about her beliefs, she claims she does not believe in Shamanism, but Nim finds a totem hidden in her wardrobe that is locally used to ward off spirits.
As days go by, Mink’s condition deteriorates steeply as she becomes a heavy drinker and her physical ailments grow more intense. Lisa, her best friend, tells the crew that Mink has been acting strange and shows them a video where Mink acts like a young child who pushes away other children to seek attention. After her pains grow even more, she admits to the crew that she has been having the same dream every night—a huge man wearing a red loincloth stomps around licking blood off his sword, and a decapitated head on the floor tries to tell her something. She had been working in the state recruitment office, but her sudden irregularities, like sleeping over at her office in a drunk state and things being stolen, made the office boss doubt her.
Checking the CCTV footage, he finds that she has been sleeping with multiple strangers at the office premises, and fires her. In a helpless state, she tries to commit suicide, but is found by her mother and rushed to the hospital. Fearing that she might lose her, Noi is now ready to let her daughter be possessed, but Nim now doubts that the spirit is not of Bayan but something else. She finds out that Mink had an incestuous relationship with her brother Mac, and that he had actually died by committing suicide. Nim suspects that it is Mac’s spirit trying to possess his sister/lover, and she starts a ritualistic ceremony to stop the evil possession.
Meanwhile, Noi takes Mink to another local shaman, who starts a ritual on Mink but is intervened upon by Nim. She rightly fears that such a ritual will only draw more evil toward the girl, and soon Mink gets hold of a camera from the crew and bashes her mother’s head with it. As Noi faints and falls, Mink runs away from the area.
A month goes by with no trace of Mink, and her family finds that she has been hiding many filthy things in her room, suggesting that the possession has been happening for a long time. Through her rituals, Nim understands that Mink’s condition does not have anything to do with Mac, and she is able to trace the girl to an old, decrepit thread factory that had belonged to Mink’s grandfather. Nim is able to bring the girl home, but now she is completely possessed. She does not eat anything and continues to act strange.
Nim realizes that she needs help from a more experienced shaman and takes her to her friend Santi. The man studies Mink and explains that it is not one spirit haunting the girl but thousands of spirits that have gathered inside her and are taking over her body and soul. As a remedy, he suggests a grand ceremonial ritual to be held at the exact spot in the factory where she was found.
Leading up to the ritual, Mink’s hauntings grow even more treacherous as she boils their family dog alive and eats it, abducts and disturbs Manit’s son and wife in their sleep, and taunts her sleeping mother. In a strange turn of events, the day before the ritual, Nim is found to have died in her sleep. Unable to understand the reason for her death, everyone believes that she has been claimed by the goddess in an unexplained death known as “lai tai.” Having lost her sister as well, Noi is ready to sacrifice her all to save her daughter, and she agrees to be the medium for the next day’s ritual.
There is a satisfying sense of information as well as mystery about the spirits that haunt Mink in the film. Noi’s husband, Wiroj, and his family, had been cursed by thousands of people as they had been treacherous employers to poor workers. His grandfather had been stoned to death by rebellious laborers, and the countless lives that the owners had taken away, all cursed against them before dying.
All this gradually rotted the family—Wiroj’s father had poisoned himself when he was caught setting his own factory on fire for insurance money (which might have further killed workers); Wiroj had suddenly been diagnosed with cancer and died soon after, his son had committed suicide. When he married Noi, all these curses against him had joined forces with the bad karma of Noi, who had evaded the goddesses’ spirit and also changed her faith. Now that nobody else was left, all of these had rushed onto Mink. As Santi explains, the wrong ceremony performed by the local shaman had left Mink exposed to even more evil, vengeful spirits that possessed her.
The film does not specify these spirits, but it is easy to guess that it is the evil spirit of everything around Mink that takes control of her. Her mother runs an illegal shop that sells dog meat; without getting into questions of morality or ethics, the spirits of these killed animals do come back for revenge, much like those of other killed animals, birds, fish, and trees. In one of her possessed acts, Mink forces her uncle’s hands on her bare breasts and rubs her body fluids on his face, claiming that he loves young girls, which clearly suggests that the man has some dark history hidden from the family. The film does not delve deep into either of these, and rather keeps the range open to imagination.
‘The Medium’ Ending Explained: Does Mink Survive The Ritualistic Cleansing?
As the grand ceremony begins with Santi and a big group of his student-helpers performing chants and rituals, Mink has been locked inside her room in her house, the door sealed with sacred spells. The shaman instead uses Noi as a medium as all evil spirits from Mink would be called onto the mother’s body and then warded off by the shaman. However, as the ceremony moves towards success, Mink calls out in her normal voice, asking for her door to be opened. Manit’s wife, and some members of the documentary crew, do not respond at first, but the evil spirit manages to hoodwink the wife into believing that her child is inside the room. Although the camera shows the child sleeping in his cot outside the room, the mother is unstoppable, and she opens the door, breaking away the sacred charm. This triggers a chain of horrific events in the factory, as the evil spirit takes over Santi and kills him, and the entire place plunges into darkness.
As the camera crew turns on flashlights, the helpers are possessed by the demons of death and eat the members of the crew. Mink, too, finishes off everyone in her house, including the child, and comes over to the factory. Noi now claims to have been possessed by the spirit of Bayan, and she starts a ritual with her hand over her daughter’s forehead. But when Mink calls out to her in her normal voice, Noi is overwhelmed, and in this brief moment, the evil spirit in Mink chokes Noi and burns her alive. As the camera pans, a voodoo doll is seen with numerous needles stuck in it and with a label that reads “Yasanta,” which is the family name of Mink’s father.
Before the credits roll, a final sequence titled “Nim’s last interview” is played in which she is seen on the day before her death. Nim is visibly very disturbed and losing her faith. She even claims that she doubts whether Bayan has actually ever possessed her, and then breaks down.
There is no conclusive reason left in the film regarding its ending, and that perhaps adds to its charm. The last sequence raises too many unanswered questions, particularly with regards to Nim’s death and also the brief supposed possession of Noi by Bayan. It is possible to imagine that Nim had actually never been possessed by the spirit and had put up the pretense for earning a livelihood. But the film’s beliefs certainly include the existence of spirits, so it might be that Bayan had instead always silently lived on inside Noi. The very opposite can also be imagined: despite Nim’s faltering faith, she is relieved of the painful and grotesque death that everyone else suffers, by her goddess. In that case, it might have been Noi’s motherly love that made her fake a spiritual possession as a last resort to save her daughter. With the interesting and strange array of local Isan belief and folklore that “The Medium” brings along, the possibilities are too many, just like the spirits that exist in the hilly land.
“The Medium” is a 2021 Drama Horror film directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun.