One quiet evening backwoods loner Kyle Limato (Michael Biehn) is reading in his log cabin when the shrieking, hysterical Annie (Jennifer Blanc) bangs on his door, begging for help. Earlier that day Annie and fellow fun-loving stripper Mary (Danielle Harris) were partying in the woods with sleazy cops Jim Harrison (Ryan Honey) and Jonathan Cooger (Denny Kirkwood). However their sex and drug-fueled games took a nasty turn leaving Mary dead and Annie on the run from the murderous duo. Kyle remains highly skeptical of Annie's story but then Jim and Jonathan arrive at his door.
Yet another Seventies grindhouse movie pastiche, The Victim is the second directorial effort from seasoned blockbuster actor turned indie auteur Michael Biehn after co-directing the Hong Kong action-thriller The Blood Bond (2010). Shot in eleven days the film co-stars and was co-produced by Biehn's real-life partner Jennifer Blanc, herself an indie multi-hyphenate having directed The Night Visitor (2013) and Psychopath (2014) as well as co-written The Night Visitor 2: Heather's Story (2016). The film was apparently a financial success as a result of the producer-stars efforts promoting it across America, state-to-state, although a lawsuit between the filmmakers and their investors has thus far kept the exact sales figures a secret.
Opening in highly unpleasant fashion with DTV queen Danielle Harris being violently sodomized before the killer snaps her neck, The Victim forgoes the standard tiresome zombie or slasher film route. Instead Biehn, who also wrote the screenplay based on a story by Reed Lackey, crafts a throwback to hicksploitation rural revenge thrillers like Macon County Line (1974). Aside from an unnecessarily jokey intro that claims the film is both 'based' and 'not based on true events' and the hero's name being a possible allusion to Biehn's most famous role in The Terminator (1984), The Victim mercifully avoids the fan-boy tone prevalent in most DTV grindhouse pastiche films. It has a solid set-up, grounded performances from a strong cast and Biehn develops the tension inherent in premise with some skill. Biehn and cinematographer Eric Curtis opt for a grungy lo-fi aesthetic with flashy, disorientating rock video shock cuts that serve the material though seem more mid-Nineties than contemporary at a time when most indie genre films try to look as slick as possible.
On the downside while the constant jumps from present to past add some colour to the relationship between Annie and the deceased Mary, they add nothing to the plot and disrupt momentum. Certain aspects of the film also smack of actor-director ego-stroking. Mere moments after they first meet, Annie and Kyle are embroiled in a sweaty, rock-scored sex scene whereupon she tells him he not only looks good for a man his age but makes love well too. Really, Michael? To Biehn's credit, he takes pains to have his characters behave more intelligently than those commonly found in low-budget horror films. Both Annie and Kyle emerge as shrewd, rational and within the limits of the genre, fairly faceted. Rather than instantly morph into a Charles Bronson-style avenger, Kyle tries to outwit and expose Jim for the despicable liar that he is. What is more his inevitable recourse to violence comes back to haunt him. The film's title derives from the nihilistic philosophy espoused by several characters that argue people are divided between victims and victimizers. Jim maintains the strong do what it takes to survive though at the end of the day, weak or strong, we are all doomed. It is certainly a point of view albeit depressingly bleak and the film does not really have the depth to put it across in an entirely convincing way. Even more damaging is the inclusion of a silly subplot about a serial killer targeting women in the area which seems shoehorned in solely for the sake of a punchline that falls flat. Interestingly the end credits include images of every single member of the crew which makes The Victim more valuable as a reflection on the cooperative spirit of indie filmmaking than as a narrative.