South Korea is really gunning for their own Exorcist hit. From TV titles like The Guest (2018) to movies like The Priests (2015), The Wailing (2016), House of the Disappeared (2017), and most recently, The Divine Fury (2019) and Netflix’s, Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2019), it seems that the priest protagonist remains as enigmatic as it is elusive, in terms of success.
Next in line is Metamorphosis, where Bae Sung-woo plays a tortured priest Joong-su, after a charge dies under his exorcism. The psychological slant of hidden guilt has long been a favoured mechanic to add depth and complication to “final act” exorcisms, but the director Kim Hong-sun missed the mark here with this title, mainly for not letting the manifestation mature beyond expositional reveals.
Choosing instead to focus on a shape-shifting demon, Metamorphosis invests in the gimmick of a wily entity as its selling point, and with limited screen time, the emotional relationships of the characters themselves were sacrificed. Sadly, even the “is-it-or-isn’t-it” premise is not fully exploited in the film and becomes a bit of a letdown in the end.
The story follows Sung-woo’s brother Gang-goo (Sung Dong-il) and his wife Myung-joo (Jang Young-nam) as they relocate their family of five to a new neighbourhood. The cause? The family was harassed for the priest’s failed exorcism and causing the death of a young girl.
Eldest daughter Sun-woo (Kim Hye-jun) and youngest son Woo-jung (Kim Kang-hoon) takes it in their stride, but the middle child Hyun-joo (Cho Yi-hyun) joins her disgruntled mother in blaming her uncle. Gang-goo tries to keep the family together, but they soon face a threat of another sort. It seems that the demon Sung-woo failed to banish is now targeting his own kin.
At this point, the entity jumps and morphs into different family members to fire up distrust and anger, and when things become supernaturally clear, Gang-goo requests for aid from his brother.
While this premise does invite scenes that test the viewer’s own cunning and guesswork, the execution doesn’t really keep the audience guessing for long. Let’s just say, this demon is really good at walking around being wide-eyed and evil, and it’s like spotting a bloodstain on a white sheet – painfully obvious. Maybe some script restraint or nuanced inflections in acting would have invoked a better sense of dread from the viewer, rather than a dramatic show of possession?
If time was an issue, there are plenty of redundant scenes that could have made the cut. From the Filipino priests debating on the legitimacy of the demon being Satan himself, to the sneering neighbour who loves his home decor bloody, these acts bear no consequence and only adds extra disconnect.
Director Kim should have focused more on the family dynamics and showed their stress, instead of an expositional script that leaves no emotional impact when they undergo their trials. By the time the final moments come together, the rhythm feels harried and discordant, while the sacrifices evoke little sympathy.
It’s a little bit creepy and there’s some small scares, but I’m not particularly obsessed.
A guesswork premise with a twisted entity screams potential, but is sadly dealt with little finesse and makes this film lack emotional commitment.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com