Victim(s) : ‘NYAFF’ Review – A Brutal, taut film where strong writing shapes an important drama
Victim(s), which has been shot in Malaysia, marks the directorial debut of the Chinese filmmaker Layla Zhuqing Ji. Through a scathing true story of high-school bullying, it reflects upon a circle of violence and negativity germinated from suspicion, slut-shaming, homophobia, sexual, domestic abuse, and the eventual media trial. Usually, with so many themes, mainstream cinema turns gimmicky and inert but this film allows for much empathy and discomfort to seep into the experience. In that process, it also makes for an agreeable murder-mystery procedural.
The film has been observed from the viewpoint of two mothers. It starts from the decisions of the victim’s mother and ends up with the choice made by the mother of the accused. Barring that though, Layla’s point-of-view is not oriented to a specific sex because her film says that bullying and revenge don’t have a gender. They happen and they stem from something more oblique. This film examines the significance of this cause which people overlook while talking about the deliverance of justice. This is a solid and subdued tale of its female protagonists and a biting critique of the toxic masculinity that affects the world of women.
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This is a well-written film because the screenplay adopts an absorbing structure. The film frequently breaks your trust towards the characters but you don’t mind it till the very end. You stay with the characters and their emotional tensions are intriguing. You begin with rooting for the killed and end up gripping for the killer. Through these shifts in tone, the writing by Layla realizes the characters very ably. You might feel that so many themes being discussed at once will end up as a hodgepodge, but the film convinces you that these themes should be addressed as this film does. The two mothers become the symbols of their own punctured souls. They, coupled with the girlfriend of the accused add up as the sensitive products of the time. They represent domestic violence, loneliness, and sexual abuse- but the film they are in doesn’t write them as sketches of manipulation.
The performances are consistently terrific. Remon Lim is excellent as the victim’s mother. The way the actress salvages her simplistic narrative with empathy is one of the most admirable things about the film. Huang Lu steals her short running time by pulling off a personal performance as the mother of the arrested. However, the most surprising performances have been delivered by the three youngsters of the film: as Chen, Gangzi, and Qianmo, the three respective actors deliver solid performances. I particularly enjoyed Wilson Hsu as Qianmo. Her plot upturns the conventions of the high-school love triangle and the young actress succeeds in fuelling the cynicism. She plays with conviction a woman who is truly the victim. She is the daughter of circumstances, the mother of the story. Her impressive restraint marks the efficiency of Victim(s).
But the trouble is that the skill of Layla Ji is easily trumped. Despite her exciting and engaging writing, she only partly manages her direction. Unnecessary use of background music, some over-the-top scenes just to be indicative were some of my disappointments. The design goes a little bewildered and settles to some absurd and indecent decisions which take out some fun from the storytelling. The cinematography by Eunsoo Choo is too heavy and bright at the beginning, albeit it finds its tonal atmosphere in the end.
But keeping aside all of its problems, Victim(s) is hard-hitting and unflinching as a study of persecution and unsoundness of breaking free from it. With a neatly organized and meaty premise, it also makes for an honestly entertaining hour.