Directed by Hong-seon Kim.
Starring Sung-Woo Bae, Dong-il Sung, Young-nam Jang, Hye-Jun Kim, Yi-Hyun Cho, and Kang-Hoon Kim.
An evil spirit that changes faces infiltrates one family placing one brother in danger while the other tries to save him.
Metamorphosis. Noun. “A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.” Contextually, Oxford’s definition describes Hong-seon Kim’s thematic narrative rather literally. What about the film’s reworking of possession subgenre norms? There’s no beautiful butterfly at the end of this cinematic chrysalis. Hong-seon Kim plays with shape-shifting demons to disrupt domestic safety but never morphs familiarity into something new. It’s long-winded, a bit daffier than intended, and struggles to author its own rulebook with coherency as each scene passes.
Gang-goo (Dong-il Sung) moves his family into a brand-new house won for cheap at an auction (oh no). Their previous neighborhood, schools, and friends knew them as the relatives of Joong-soo (Sung-Woo Bae), an exorcist who smells of death. In an unfortunate turn of events, the underworld entity that once threatened Joong-soo’s loved ones makes good on its promise. Gang-goo’s household is infiltrated by a changeling who turns wives against daughters, sons against sisters, which calls Joong-soo back into unholy battle. Will evil prevail once more?
South Korean horror cinema rarely shies away from daunting run times. Train To Busan? Two hours. I Saw The Devil? Two and a half. The Wailing? Even more. It’s an international medium that dares to view horror through storytelling vastness over American takes that only care about gore, sleaze, and cheap thrills. Metamorphosis tries to honor this tradition like the trio of stunners above but doesn’t generate similarly sustained momentum. It’s a tough task, but lulls in excitement make two hours feel doubly as long.
Maybe that’s because the chameleon dynamic of Metamorphosis haphazardly evolves with little attention outside Joong-soo’s introductory failure. Gang-goo’s family hastily makes themselves comfortable; then, suddenly, Gang-goo’s doppelganger is leering quite uncomfortably at his paralyzed-in-fear daughter. From here, it’s a guessing game of mistrust as the demon waltzes into rooms looking like someone not present. Deception is supposed to introduce unease but becomes one-note and frustrating outside the most prominent instances of vanishing behind closed doors as an escape (some Saturday morning cartoon tricks). The whole guessing game gimmick wears thin too early, especially once the demon proves more powerful through invisible force-pushing and other enhanced abilities that appear once? Twice, possibly?
Maybe it’s because Joong-soo’s crisis of faith isn’t all that compelling? Besides a nighttime vision where blood rains from his religious dormitory ceiling, horror visuals escape even the most heated exchanges. He’s a priest who wants freedom from his duties, plagued by his “infected” past, drawn back due to bloodline obligations. His arc ends a specific way for emotional impact, but I’m also not sure why (again, blurred rules)? There’s tempered enthusiasm beyond Joong-soo’s fateful duel against his evil nemesis, who stills gets the better of him time and time again. What should be a “fresh take” on exorcism complications is still rudimentary and generic when it comes to character perception. Fathers remain blind to the realities around them (smashing mama’s head against a picture, for example), while children wander alone and unprotected. We’ve seen much of this before, in a shorter time frame, without being dragged-out.
The biggest frustration that comes from Metamorphosis is how Hong-seon Kim is striving for something more ritualistic than just another possessed grouping of humans. The film’s length exists so a neighbor character’s headless animal decorations can be discovered, or international exorcists can be shown around a communal table like some Evil Dead Council. There’s an attempt to build a bigger universe that falls flat in these moments, as supplementary details aren’t handled with the same delicacy as in, say, The Wailing. Some nasty gore effects depict demonization with blistered skin and smokey souls, but those are the only instances where intrigue reigns supreme. Otherwise, this is a ninetyish minute housebound prayer-war against Satan that doesn’t quite carry the damnation audiences require.
It’s a shame because I’m always excited to see how South Korean horror flicks can highlight more international flavors of folklore and mysticism. Metamorphosis tries, rest assured, but not with the same notoriety of far more accomplished titles that take a giant leap forward. It’s a slow, chore-like possession story rooted in recycled structures despite an otherwise mind-bendy hook. I wanted to be shocked, I wanted to be amazed, and yet I experienced tedium more than any other reaction. Too many stock-simple character arcs, not enough exploration of the focal body-swapping that something like Head Count manages with far more unsettling command.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).