Metamorphosis (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Kim Hong-seon’s “Metamorphosis” tries to inject new blood in the exorcism subgenre, but its aspiration is far more admirable than its execution. It has learned nothing from failed American demonic possession movies. It chooses ostentatious shocks, gore, and visual effects at just about every opportunity instead of focusing on telling a specific story—a personal story—of a family who moves into a new home following the patriarch’s brother, a priest, who lived with them at the time, having inadvertently killed a girl during an exorcism. It’s as fresh as a decomposing corpse.

If one just so happened to miss the opening sequence, one might assume that the material is a haunted house story; details are amorphous. Gang-goo (Sung Dong-il) is optimistic about the new home they had just purchased from an auction… that nobody was interested in bidding on. The wife, Myung-joo (Jang Young-nam), does not share his sentiment; she considers it a hassle, along with the middle child, Hyun-joo (Cho Yi-hyun), to have to uproot their lives due to Joong-soo’s (Bae Sung-woo) incompetence which led to a tragic death. The eldest daughter, Sun-woo (Kim Hye-jun), and the only son, Woo-jong (Kim Kang-hoon), on the other hand, are quite close to their uncle. They don’t mind the move so much, and they miss him.

The first act shows a bit of promise. We are given a few hints that this is a family who has lost, or in the process of losing, their faith. Myung-joo insists that all religious paraphernalia go in the basement. There is also a clever bit regarding a neighbor who makes loud sloshing noises in the middle of the night—clearly winking at the phrase “Hell is other people.” Maybe the recently purchased home is bad news, cursed, or simply unlucky on top of the uncle’s past clearly coming to haunt his loved ones. It is all a matter of time.

But connective tissues among the elements I’ve described are not fully ironed out. The bad neighbor is dropped less than halfway through; we get one flashback in the latter hour which provides no explanation that makes sense. Bizarre events occur in the newly purchased home like the devil taking the form of every family member… yet not one is convincing because the actors either choose or are instructed to overact.

We do not even get to feel or appreciate the love between two brothers, Gang-goo and Joong-woo, which proves to be critical later on due to handful of scenes meant to tug at the heartstrings. When not generic, elements are put together quite haphazardly; tension fails to accumulate because we are too distracted from trying to decipher the connections among the puzzle pieces. There is a difference between engagement and busy work. This is the latter.

Outside of the issues with the screenplay, notice that the filmmakers often feel the need to remind us that the budget is being used: characters fly across the room, the wind machine must be at max setting when the devil speaks (cue the deep voice, yellow contact lenses required), skin boils and lashes must look as disgusting as possible, dead animals must be hung on trees, there must be at least ten upside down crosses, floors must be covered in blood. It’s just too much—overcompensation for its lack of substance. It feels much longer than two hours.

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