Exorcisms invoke a very specific type of fear in horror fans. The thought of having a demon control you violates any form of agency and in all honesty, possession was a real fear a lot of kids who grew up Catholic. The possession films, and more specifically exorcism films are a predominantly Western sub-genre of horror, especially when dealing with Roman Catholic rights. That said, the new Shudder Original film, Metamorphosis from South Korea takes the exorcism stories we’re used to and uses K-horror visuals and tropes to carrying effect but ultimately makes it stand out against other possession films.
Directed by Hong-seon Kim, Metamorphosis is a film that sits between A-horror and American horror. In it, Joong-Su (Sung-Woo Bae) is an exorcist who must face a demon he tragically failed to defeat in the past when it targets his brother’s family next. Opening in the middle of an exorcism, the scene is familiar, like many that already exist in horror, and then it isn’t. The violence shown, the blood used, and the visuals of the possessed girl’s face all break the traditional imagery we’re used to while the pivotal hot priest piece of the possession movie formula remains. Having failed to save the girl from the demon, Joong-Su turns away from the practice altogether in guilt. But this shame brought by his failure extends to his family too who are forced to move.
While this has the familiar beats we’re used to, the middle part of the film switches perspectives and brings us into the house of Joong-Su’s brother Kang-gu (Sung Dong-il) and the terror happening inside of it. It’s when the film changes gears by focusing on building tension instead of using the possession film trope that it shines. As the demon assumes the form of different family members to sow confusion and distrust, destroying the unit from within, Metamorphosis more specifically resembles a film about a haunting, morphing slowly into possession.
We watch as Kang-gu’s family fall apart. His wife Myung-joo (Jang Young-nam) scares their son Woo-jong (Kim Kang-Hoon), their daughters, Sun-woo (Kim Hye-Jun) and Hyun-joo (Cho Yi-Hyun) begin to question and fear their father, and the violence that happens at its apex is the best part of the film. As the demon weaves through the family each of the actors is tasked with becoming a completely different person and each of them excels at the task. In one of the most striking scenes, the family is sitting at the table eating when Myung-joo becomes possessed, reacting to her son’s complaint about his food. She shoves it in her face, she yells, and she swipes the food from the table. The performance is unnerving and the tension is propelled by the energy of the family around the possessed mother.
But, when Joong-Su is called to face the demon again and put his own life at risk, the film reverts to telling its priestly story. While Bae is compelling as Joong-Su, the other priests are not. In fact, when we’re shown a closed-door meeting with priests of varying ethnicities all speaking in English, it’s reminiscent of all the scenes in K-Dramas that I skip, where the rating in English falters and undercuts the tension the film has built up until that point. Additionally, the last act takes absurdity to the next level, not only in its violence but in its premise and resolution. Truthfully, the film feels like two stories put together that aren’t evenly matched emotionally.
That being said, Metamorphosis is a fun watch. While it may not be as cohesive as I would have liked given the strong first acts, the time we spend with Kang-gu’s family is unnerving and makes for some fun scares and unsettling moments. While it may not be the strongest K-horror title on Shudder, it’s a good addition to the platform nonetheless.
Metamorphosis is available now, exclusively on Shudder.
Metamorphosis is a fun watch. While it may not be as cohesive as I would have liked given the strong first acts, the time we spend with Kang-gu’s family is unnerving and makes for some fun scares and unsettling moments.