Metamorphosis

It’s been a minute since a decent exorcism flick came around (I think the best in recent memory was, what, Deliver Us from Evil?  Man, that’s pretty sad…), and I don’t know if I should be surprised or not that South Korea would be the country to provide one for us.  Sure, several such films come out every year, but pretty much none of them provide much in the way of interest, much less quality.  With that being said, let’s talk a bit about Metamorphosis (or Byeonshin in the anglicized native tongue).

Yi-Hyun Cho, Dong-il Sung, Young-nam Jang, Sung-Woo Bae, Kang-Hoon Kim, and Hye-Jun Kim in Byeonshin (2019)

As exorcism films are wont to do, we begin with a faltering priest.  Park Joong-Soo fails in saving the life of a possessed little girl, forcing him to question his abilities and whatnot.  This is a mightily unfortunate time for such doubts, as his brother’s family, who have recently moved because of rumors surrounding Joong-Soo (words will spread when you inadvertently kill a kid, y’know), find themselves the victims of a noxious demonic presence.

Sounds fairly basic, I know, but the film presents an interesting version of this sort of situation:  Rather than simply having the spirit fuck around with the family members (though it does do that, yes), it takes their forms as well.  As such, it’s able to sow some intrafamilial chaos by impersonating various members and being violent, creepy, or just downright rude.  It’s a neat concept that brings some added paranoia and confusion to the usual mix, as well as providing the foundation for a decent twist in the last act, even if it is slightly foreseeable.

Where the film falters, though, is in its visuals.  One of the reasons the successful exorcism flicks – or any horror flick, really – tend to be successful is their use of atmosphere.  Here, there is no sense of much of anything, despite of the prevalence of opportunities therefor.  Dark scenes don’t exhibit shadows in any real capacity, and the figures and their surroundings are all lit particularly clearly, allowing for no obfuscation or suspense where light is ostensibly lacking.  Juhwan Yoon’s cinematography is generally pleasant to look at, and some of the color uses are pretty nice, but there’s a distinct lack of atmosphere here throughout, and the dearth of character leaves me wanting.

Still, there’s plenty to like here.  The story is interesting enough, and even provides an interesting jumping off point for future films in the genre: the exorcism film from the perspective of someone being exorcized – but doesn’t have a demon inside of them!  This technically doesn’t happen here, but the concept is introduced well enough.  Although director Kim Hong-seon favors Blumhouse-style jump-scares throughout the film, there’s enough creepiness in the way the characters interact and deceptions are executed to keep one on edge as the plot moves forward.  And there’s an international flavor to things with the inclusion of Filipino locations and actors, as well as cast members from elsewhere, giving us a sense of the scope of the church’s exorcism operations.

Overall, Metamorphosis isn’t necessarily a game-changer for the genre, but it brings in enough unique facets to stand out amongst the usual crowd of possession movies.  If you’re in need of a slightly off-center horror flick, give it a go.

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