Seems mad science is in again. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE gets all the attention because of its distasteful experiment centerpiece, but really it’s about how horrific science can be and has become in this modern age. VICTIM continues this trend as Dr. Volk (played mercilessly by Bob Bancroft) and his silent henchman Mr. George (Brendan Kelly) kidnap a young man from a bar and put him through a perilous gauntlet of treatments with unsettling results. Much like THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, the terror comes from the fact that the horrors performed on screen could actually happen in real life given the right amount of equal parts expertise and madness. Unlike the blood sucking or brain munching undead that is all the rage today, this is a tale that could actually happen, and because of this it is scary as shit.
The success of VICTIM very much relies on the performances of the three main actors. It’s one of those films that could actually be a play, in that for the most part, the story takes place in one location (a lab/cell in the basement of a mansion). The three main characters, though, carry the movie. Mr. George is menacing, but all actor Brendan Kelly (who starred in actioneers CON AIR and THE ROCK) has to do is stand and look tough. He does this well. The young man (never named but played by first time actor Stephen Weigand) has a much more challenging job and though he isn’t very convincing towards the beginning of the film when he tries to play it tough against his captors’ muscle, the actor really shows some talent toward the end as his role requires a range a lot of actors wouldn’t be able to pull off without careening into parody. But the most effective of the three roles here is Bob Bancroft’s Dr. Volk. Bancroft had some practice on CHICAGO HOPE playing a doctor, but here he practices medicine to the extreme (he was also the first Willie on the TV show ALF before Max Wright took the role after the pilot). Volk is cold and calculating here. He’s got this distant tone in his voice we all have experienced in the doctor’s office and as the treatments he performs get more and more grueling, this tone never changes or wavers. Not until the end, when the camera pulls back and reveals the big picture only hinted at throughout the entire movie, does Volk show any emotion. If VICTIM has a linchpin, Bancroft’s performance as Volk is that. This is a role that will make me take notice when I see Bancroft again on screen.
So you might be asking yourself, “Great, so the performances are pretty decent, but what the hell is VICTIM about?!??” I almost don’t want to reveal what VICTIM is about, but I will hint that this is a revenge film first and foremost. The opening scenes of an innocent woman assaulted, raped, and killed by a man behind a camera indicate right off the bat that this is not a film for the squeamish. Directors Matt Eskandari & Michael A. Pierce show a lot of patience with the way they dole out the information here and in that lies the reason for VICTIM’s effectiveness. Because some of the scenes are so horrific, I felt as if I were distracted from certain questions I should have been asking throughout VICTIM, but in the end, when all is revealed, it all made sense in a twisted way. The true victim in the film’s title skips from one person to the next here, making one question one’s own definition of the term. Because of that, VICTIM plays like a thinking man’s SAW, but to even compare the two films in this way isn’t entirely accurate. There are copious scenes of medical torture throughout, but the true terror lies in the psychological transformation the patient undergoes by the end of the film.
There are a few times in VICTIM where the scope is somewhat small. The constrictions of some of the scenes were probably due to the lower budget. Scenes that break away from the mansion, the lab, and the cell, are the least effective (especially scenes that are supposed to be the police station, but really look more like a cluttered desk shoved into a closet). This is a film that exists solely within the borders of Dr. Volk’s mansion. Because of that, there’s a claustrophobic feel at play, but it also highlights the limitations. A few of the really dramatic scenes, especially when the female police officer attempts to rescue the young man, fall short of greatness, but the scenes involving the treatments, the abduction scenes, and the way the ending all came together were all done effectively enough for me to pay attention to what Eskandari & Pierce have to offer next. Though VICTIM goes through a lot of the motions we’ve seen before in other torture horror endeavors, the limited arena in which the drama plays out makes it stand above others in its class.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out from the trio of movies we looked at in this column what the experiment in all about (hell, just watch the preview below), but I don’t want to spoil it here. I will say that there are scenes in this film that made me squirm and twists that both shocked and surprised me. With today’s advances in medicine, feats that were once thought impossible and nightmarish are almost too easily accomplished. VICTIM takes advantage of that fact and does so with torturous patience and medical (albeit warped) precision.