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METAMORPHOSIS (2020)

aka BYEONSHIN
Directed by Hong-seon Kim
Written by Hong-seon Kim
Starring Sung-Woo Bae, Dong-il Sung, Young-nam Jang, Hye-Jun Kim, Yi-Hyun Cho, Kang-Hoon Kim, Kwi-seon Kim, Dae-han Ji, Jeon Mi Do, Se-hee Kim, Mary Joy L. Aparte, Yun-shik Baek, Glenn Ivan, Razel Kim, Tae-rin Kim, Dae-hwan Oh

I think I liked the premise of METAMORPHOSIS much more than the actual film. Hong-seon Kim’s film tries to take on the subject of exorcism from a different angle and while there were interesting moments, the film just didn’t have enough zing to make me want to recommend it to others.

The opening is a scene we are all very familiar with. A young woman is bound to a bed with an exorcist citing biblical passages and exorcism rites over her while splashing holy water on her. The young girl writhes in her restraints, curses the priest, and states that she has battled the priest a few times before. After a tragic series of events, the exorcism is over and the exorcist is overwhelmed with guilt at the failure to rid the girl of the demon. It is an exciting scene, though one I’ve seen a few times too many. I know that this is the official way to perform an exorcism, but still there really is no effort not to almost copy beat for beat the final moments of THE EXORCIST and it’s million copycats out there, including a dramatic end involving a fall from a window.

After this dramatic opening, the scene switches to a South Korean family moving into a new home. The parents are eager to get unpacked. The youngest of the three kids ventures around the grounds excitedly. The middle child tries to be the caretaker of the kids and everything else going on. And the oldest is nose-deep into her phone and not interested in helping with the unpacking. While the family feels very typical, each are given just the right amount of character to make them distinct and likable—even the snotty tech-addicted older teen. Things really don’t get moving until we are introduced to a strange neighbor who seems to be working on something in the late hours of the night. When a skinned cat is hung outside of their window, the father has enough and goes over to give the neighbor what for, but the sights he sees in the strange neighbor’s apartment are too macabre and grotesque to be repeated. When the father calls the police, it appears that all of the horrifying décor has disappeared. This intervention, though, propels the neighbor to enact a curse upon the family. It seems the demon from the opener is now hopping from one member of the family to the next, possessing them, and tearing the family apart. Wouldn’t you know it? The priest from the beginning happens to be related to this family under siege by the demon and though he has lost his faith and confidence, he preps to do battle with the demon once again.

I like the idea of an exorcist and a demon having a long history of battling one another with the body of the possessed person seen almost as collateral damage. The familiarity between demon and priest has always been a part of these exorcist stories, but we rarely get to see this connection play out in a manner to show this life and death battle as it unfolds over time with the demon and priest playing out the parts of being age-old combatants who know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I wish METAMORPHOSIS would have focused a little more on this relationship, but I am intrigued by the idea.

What the film focuses on instead is the game of leapfrog the demon plays as it imitates one family member after another, attacking other family members, and sowing the seeds of mistrust and abuse. This tears the fabric of the family apart as each family member does some unspeakable acts to one another. This plays out in a tragic and terrifying way and I think it is the aspect that works the best in METAMORPHOSIS. It really feels that the heart of the film lays in this portion as there are some solid scares, wonderful dramatic turns, and suspenseful scenes played out. Unfortunately, the film once again has to return to the comfortable exorcism-movie template so we have to return to the room with the bound girl and the screaming, holy water splooshing, swearing, and so forth. This reliance on the exorcism formula really does act as a detriment to the film which does go off-script in the middle portion.

There are some surprises to be had with METAMORPHOSIS. There is a late in the game shockeroo that I feel was really bungled through some editing and pacing gaffs. I really think, had this shock landed, I might have liked this movie all the more, but the way it plays out really misses the mark and undercuts a lot of tension built up in the climactic scenes. The film’s abrupt ending also signifies that there really are quite a few balls dropped as this film comes to a close.

In the end, METAMORPHOSIS really doesn’t deliver enough new stuff to stand out among other recent and old exorcism flicks. The middle body-swapping portion was the most interesting aspect for me, but I think a reliance on age-old exorcism tropes really does hurt this film in the long run. There are some fun risks taken. I loved the décor of the neighbors house of horrors and I think all of the acting works pretty well. I just felt like I’ve seen the bulk of METAMORPHOSIS before.

Click here for the trailer!!