Directed by Michael Biehn
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Arriving about five years too late, actor Michael Biehn’s directorial debut, The Victim, seeks to capitalize on the post-Grindhouse glut of nostalgically sleazy genre flicks that immediately followed in the wake of that 2007 Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration. Unfortunately, while Biehn shows promise, his film ultimately fails to fully entertain as a piece of fun exploitation. A pity, as the first-time director exhibits a good eye and obvious passion for genre filmmaking.
The Victim opens on a fairly confrontational note, with poor stripper Mary (Harris, a trooper) bent over a rock in a forest, being jackhammered by her douchebaggy cop boyfriend for what seems like an eternity. Said cop, a mouthy jackass named Harrison (Honey), accidentally kills Mary, then enlists his not-quite-as-assholish partner, Cooger (Kirkwood), to hide Mary’s body and kill Mary’s friend, Annie (Blanc), who was partying with the trio. Overhearing their plan, Annie escapes into the surrounding forest, eventually stumbling upon a well hidden cabin in the woods belonging to quiet recluse Kyle (Biehn).
Annie pleads for Kyle’s help and trust, though he has trouble believing her wild tale of evil cops and dead strippers in the woods. A bit of arguing, a trip to the murder site, and one “where the hell did that come from?” sex scene later, and Kyle is on board to protect Annie, just at about the time Harrison and Cooger show up to eliminate the only witness to their crime.
The film’s biggest downfall is its threadbare plot and two-dimensional characters. While most grindhouse flicks can’t lay claim to labyrinthine stories and realistic protagonists, the better ones of their ilk succeed in keeping their audiences entertained and caring about the characters populating their films. And while Biehn’s gritty aspirations are admirable, the film’s lazy pace and tepidly racy moments ensure that it feels less like genuine 70s exploitation and more like mid-90s era Cinemax After Dark.
As expected, both Biehn and Harris are great, and Biehn’s real-life wife and co-producer Blanc does a fine job as stripper-in-peril Annie. Not faring so well are Honey and Kirkwood, who often come off as cartoonish when they should be genuinely frightening. Though, to be fair to the two actors, the script doesn’t do them any favors.
What’s truly surprising is just how good this movie looks, given the low budget, fast schedule, and the director’s inexperience. Biehn obviously knows how to frame a shot, as the film is remarkably well lensed. I absolutely believe that Biehn has it in him to make a great flick; he’ll just need a stronger script and a more solid cast the next time he steps behind the camera (and here’s hoping he does).
Anchor Bay has put together a nice enough disc for The Victim. The image looks quite good, with sharp detail and strong colors. Even the day-for-night scenes, while obvious, look pretty great. The audio is good as well, if unremarkable.
The bonus features are sparse, but what’s provided is still worth a look. There is a twenty-five-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, which gives a pretty good nuts-and-bolts account of the making of the film. There is also an audio commentary by Biehn and Blanc, which is an engaging enough chat with some interesting info and funny stories sprinkled throughout (particularly amusing is Biehn’s recollection of working with director William Friedkin).
Overall, The Victim is a miss, though it’s not without merit. Diehard fans of Biehn, Harris, and faux grindhouse flicks will want to give this film a look, if only to witness it for themselves. If you’re interested, do yourself a favor: Give it a rental first. Everyone else? Just wait for Biehn’s next shot behind the camera. Here’s hoping it’s considerably better and pays off on the promise of his talent shown here.
2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5