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New Release Review [Shudder] - METAMORPHOSIS

metamorphosis shudder review
On the cusp of leaving the Church, a priest is asked to help rid his brother's family of the evil spirit menacing their home.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kim Hong-sun

Starring: Bae Sung-Woo, Sung Dong-Il, Jang Young-Nam, Kim Hye-Jun, Cho Yi-Hyun, Kim Kang-Hoon

metamorphosis shudder poster


The Exorcist meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this muddled mashup from Korean director Kim Hong-sun. The clich├ęs come thick and fast, with Metamorphosis introducing us to its obligatory disillusioned Catholic priest protagonist. In a Vertigo inspired prologue, we watch as Father Joong-Soo (Bae Sung-Woo) struggles to perform an exorcism on a teenage girl who, along with her mother, appear to have morphed into demons straight out of the Evil Dead franchise. The botched exorcism results in the girl falling to her death, impaling  herself (in another nod to Hitchcock) on a spiked railing below. Joong-Soo is left so distraught by the incident that he requests to leave the priesthood.

metamorphosis shudder review


Just as Joong-Soo is on the cusp of hanging up his collar for the last time, he's called back into action to thwart Satan once again, and this time it's personal. His older brother, Gang-Goo (Sung Dong-Il), has just moved his family into a new home, which he nabbed for a bargain price - "I can't believe we were the only bidders," remarks his wife, Myung-Joo (Jang Young-Nam). On their first night in their new home, Gang-Goo's family is kept awake by the noise of their next door neighbour seemingly doing some all-night DIY. The following morning their breakfast is ruined by the ghastly sight of a skinned cat hanging outside their window. When Gang-Goo calls over to the neighbour's house, he steps into what looks like Ed Gein's living room, with upside crucifixes and animal carcasses hanging from the ceiling. Returning to his own home, Gang-Goo begins to behave in a sinister fashion towards his family, and it seems something evil has followed him from his neighbour's house.

metamorphosis shudder review


While trading in well-worn exorcism and possession tropes, Hong-Sun enlivens his film with the novel idea of an evil spirit that doesn't possess its human hosts so much as duplicate them. In traditional Body Snatchers movies, the human has to die before their clone can take their place, but here the spirit just goes ahead and clones its host while the latter is still ticking. This leads to the film's most effective sequences, as the children of the central family are menaced by what they believe to be their parents. There's something about parents - the very people children should be able to count on - turning against their kids that always makes for effective creepiness in a horror movie. When it's introduced here it kicks the movie into another gear, but Hong-Sun fails to exploit the idea, letting the family figure out what's going on far too early.

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With a more patient build up of its disquieting family dynamic, Metamorphosis may have gotten under our skin to a greater degree. Given its hefty running time of two hours, there's plenty of time for Hong-Sun to focus on the crumbling of Gang-Goo's family, but instead he wastes time with unnecessary cutaways to Joong-Soo discussing his spiritual angst with his elder priests, and a diversion to the Philippines is largely redundant. Once Joong-Soo arrives at his brother's home, there's only enough time left for some generic priest vs demon antics.


metamorphosis shudder review


This is one of those rare examples of a foreign language horror movie whose English language remake I might welcome. The central idea here has bags of potential, and if played well it could result in a movie that's essentially John Carpenter's The Thing transplanted to the confines of a suburban family home. In Hong-Sun's film, the paranoid tension between the family members is never mined for the sort of thrills and suspense such a dynamic seems custom made for. It's always made far too obvious who is possessed at any given time, which denies the audience the sort of skin-crawling guessing game we should be psychologically engaged in.

Metamorphosis is on Shudder from July 2nd.





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