From a quick glance at The Victim‘s poster, one gets the impression there could in fact be some grindhouse influenced fun to be had, especially with veteran genre actor Michael Biehn at the helm. The presence of scream queen Danielle Harris certainly offers an even stronger attraction to the story, drawing fans in, and an axe wielding Biehn pretty much seals the deal on intrigue. Sure, I wasn’t expecting the next Planet Terror or anything particularly noteworthy, just a good time waster and some entertaining creativity. But as the saying goes, it was curiosity that killed the cat, and The Victim damn near desecrated this curious fuzzball.
I hate to be so critical on Michael Biehn’s first solo directorial effort, but almost every single mark was missed by production.
Let’s start simply with the elongated introductory credits, which actually foreshadow future events in the film just on length alone. Biehn, along with editor Vance Crofoot, create laboriously drawn out sequences of nothingness - for example, Biehn’s character shown driving home for what felt like hours - which make The Victim feel padded with filler content. Another example of such drawn out events happen when we first meet Jennifer Blanc’s character Annie, running on an endless loop through a dark forest, but taking an eternity to actually reach Biehn’s cabin. At an hour and twenty-minute run time, proper cuts could have probably decreased that number under an hour, showing just how much useless content is included.
Moving on from pacing, our actors don’t justify their camera time much either, offering nothing but cardboard cutout performances. I stand by my love for Biehn in his other works like Planet Terror and The Divide, but his loner character Kyle is almost unwatchable at times. Possibly trying to play towards a badass action hero mixed with grindhouse B-movie acting, Biehn either completely underacts or overacts each scenario, while delivering some downright embarrassing dialogue.
Biehn’s wife Jennifer Blanc also leaves much to be desired in her role as the vulnerable female Kyle has to protect, incessantly crying or screaming like an annoying newborn every chance that popped up. For a real life husband and wife playing a fake couple on-screen, chemistry levels are at a surprising low, only saved when one supporting actor picks up their slack.
Ryan Honey stands alone as the one saving grace for The Victim and does his best to elicit a grindhouse worthy performance, but even his character has faults. Granted, his crooked cop character Harrison battles shoddy dialogue just like every other character, so you can hardly blame any shortcomings on the actor. Harrison is the only character who acts like he belongs in the genre, and thankfully is able to drum up what fun there could be had with the script, making Honey’s efforts the most palatable of all. I hoped Danielle Harris could fill the same void, but her presence is wastefully underutilized and gives her no time to shine, making her nothing but a marketing tool.
Considering the term grindhouse is stamped all other this package, The Victim is some of the most underwhelming and tame material to grace the genre. When you think grindhouse, you think three things – Nudity, Violence, and B-Movie Acting. Well we’ve already discussed the acting, so let’s touch on the other two.
Biehn certainly incorporates as much sex in his script possible, starting off with some Ryan Honey on Danielle Harris action, but again drags on the escapades so much longer than necessary, and with no variation. The camera angle doesn’t change the entire time it feels, only adding to the strenuously long exploitation. From here, Biehn treats us to numerous shots of his nude wife, and makes us watch a random scene of softcore porn between the two lovebirds. Did anyone else feel incredibly awkward watching them?
The whole point of grindhouse cinema is to have fun with low budgets and twisted ideas, not exploiting sex just for sex’s sake. Look at Piranha and the naked underwater ballet Kelly Brook and Riley Steele perform for our viewing pleasure - now that was proper usage of completely left field exploitation in a hilarious scenario. Biehn, on the other hand, takes something fun and just makes it weird, putting another nail in his mostly sealed coffin.
Action fans don’t escape disappoint either, as Biehn doesn’t even wield the axe he’s shown sporting in the promotional poster. Our director has no fun with over the top violence, forgetting yet another staple of the grindhouse genre. Far too long is spent establishing failing characters and boring plot points to even make time for some hack and slash goodness, leaving viewers hungry for the missing insanity that should have ensued. No exploding heads, exposed organs, flying limbs, or obligatory fake gore to be found anywhere near Biehn’s characters sans one single scene.
I’ll be honest, I don’t have much more to say because The Victim doesn’t make proper use of any major tentpoles that support grindhouse cinema. It’s nothing but a disappointing watch from start to finish, one I can’t justify telling anyone else to try out. Even the soundtrack was laughable, planting acoustic ballads over un-fitting moments on-screen. No matter if Annie was laughing or terrified, that same soft voice would have kicked in and strummed a few more chords, leaving us confused and taken completely out of the moment – something The Victim does all too well.
Missing the point of what true grindhouse fans are looking for, don’t expect much life to be found in this stale, monotonous, mind-numbing tale, making Biehn’s audience the sole victim in this whole debacle.