“Metamorphosis” begins with an impeccable “The Exorcist”-inspired scene. It’s grim, unsettling and features a priest performing an exorcism on a young girl, but of course things go awry with bloody results. Turns out, this scene is by and large the best scene in the film and somehow also the most original. “Metamorphosis” ends up feeling like a sum of its short list of influences, of which “The Exorcist” is at the top, but never develops a unique story or visual style of its own.
The story centers on a family of the priest, Joong-soo, seen performing the exorcism. His brother, Gang-goo, along with his wife and three children, are forced to relocate after the public scandal involving his brother and the exorcism gone wrong. As you can probably guess, trouble and supernatural evils have a way of finding the family, and they’re forced to ask for Joong-soo’s help.
Korea has a long history of producing incredible, haunting films, long before Bong Joon-ho won basically all the Oscars for his smash hit “Parasite.” Korean films, especially horror, tend to have a certain edge to them. Gorgeous, but often deceiving, visuals meet unforgettable narratives in films like “The Host,” “The Divine Fury” and “The Tale Of Two Sisters,” but “Metamorphosis” feels like it purposely wants to mimic Western horror films. Unfortunately, it ends up feeling much like the awful, mass-produced horror remakes and reboots of our time: soulless and pointless.
There are moments of genuine horror and shock, but they’re fleeting and often lost in a sea of otherwise unremarkable scenes. “Metamorphosis” feels strangely melodramatic, with a soaring, invasive score and the bizarre inclusion of some bad CGI crows. Horror thrives best at small moments that crawl under your skin and tug on your nerve endings, but “Metamorphosis” has none of these moments. Everything in the film feels premeditated and predictable, almost in a satisfying way; it’s the same giddy feeling of superiority when you figure out the mystery before the detective in a cop show.
A lot of the film’s scares rely solely on loud sound effects and, while jump scares are often laughed at, “Metamorphosis” is an excellent example of them being much more than just a singular loud noise. It all feels a little careless; there’s no effort in truly scaring the audience, and the plot feels overstuffed with unnecessary details. Despite the film’s overly long run time, it doesn’t manage to establish the powers the demon has, so everything starts feeling too convenient or too extravagant without context.
The film does feature some excellent performances. Especially impressive is Young-nam Jang, who plays Gang-goo’s wife with amazing physicality, especially in a scene taking place at a family meal. Sung-woo Bae is believable as Joong-soo, but the film feels like a missed opportunity in digging into the character of a man of faith who has lost the faith in himself.
Director Hong-seon Kim clearly loves religious horror but fails to understand what it really is about. The film nails the iconography, but there simply isn’t enough meat on its bones. “Metamorphosis” is a film that should have ended at 90 minutes but somehow keeps going for another 20 minutes, stretching the narrative as well as our patience.
“Metamorphosis” is now streaming on Shudder!
Featured image credit: Shudder