Title: The Victim
Director: Michael Biehn
Starring: Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc, Danielle Harris, Ryan Honey, Denny Kirkwood
Extra helpings of off-kilter and off-key melodrama sink Michael Biehn’s bewildering directorial debut “The Victim,” a nasty little down-and-dirty thriller about a murder, a panicked stripper on the lam and a trio of guys trying to sort out the truth and protect their own skins. Beset with many of the problems of low-budget indie flicks but none of the narrative cleverness, stylistic fleetness of foot or other mechanisms of coping with them, this grindhouse-type offering may find a certain cult-ish reception amongst longtime fans of the veteran genre actor, but otherwise disappear without a trace.
Against the backdrop of several reports of missing women, rugged loner Kyle Limato (Biehn) retreats to a cabin in the woods, only to have his solitude interrupted by the hysterical Annie (Jennifer Blanc, Biehn’s real-life wife), a stripper who claims to have seen her friend Mary (Danielle Harris) murdered. She and Mary were in the woods partying with cops James Harrison (Ryan Honey) and Jonathan Cooger (Denny Kirkwood) when rough but consensual sex between James and Mary went wrong. Kyle takes Annie in, and rebuffs queries from the suspicious police officers when they come knocking at his door. When James comes back, however, kidnapping and various stand-offs ensue, as Kyle and Annie try to discover what’s happened to Mary’s body.
Shot chiefly in and around one location, and frequently in day-for-night swap fashion, “The Victim” gives off a grungy, DIY vibe. Its production was reportedly a difficult one, and obviously resources weren’t abundant, but the film’s lack of stylistic flourish and connection isn’t its main problem — that lies in the execution of the story itself. Biehn picks an awkward point of entry for his tale, and then constructs things in a way that remove secrets from the narrative. Its leading dialogue (repeated variations of “Do you believe me now?”) basically telegraphs that there will be a “twist,” but the movie doesn’t have any deep-seated intrigue, really; it’s just a matter of which one of two characters is lying, and to what degree.
Its characterizations are a bit deranged — Harrison is a puffed-chest guy who, when the tables are turned back in his favor, barks “I’ve been a winner my whole life!” — but “The Victim” doesn’t really play those elements up for blackly comedic effect, as Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth might. Leaps in logic and motivation are terrible throughout — in Biehn’s world, apparently a crime has only been committed if a body can be found, and that in and of itself then establishes the veracity of someone’s story, regardless of other facts or conflicting eyewitness accounts. The movie’s acting is additionally problematic; histrionic seems to be a baseline setting.
On the plus side, the movie’s special effects work, while not extensive, is quite solid, and composer Jeehun Hwang’s contributions are superb — slightly offbeat little numbers that pull viewers forward in their seats a little bit. Unfortunately, “The Victim” otherwise just doesn’t have much going for it.
NOTE: “The Victim” screens in Los Angeles at the New Beverly Theater, where Biehn and Blanc will be on hand for special introductions and Q&As after most evening screenings.
Written by: Brent Simon