Promising possession and exorcism set-up fizzles out into more tepid low-scare affair
The opening scene of Metamorphosis promising much more than the final film can deliver, as it meanders through a disjoined tale of devil possession, lost faith and a family set at war by a maleficent force.
It is not a film without its scary jolts, especially from the first possession victim who is being assisted by Catholic priest Joong-Soo (Bae Sung-Woo) to free her of the demon. This attempts ends in failure as the girl drops from her bedroom window, leaving a jaded Joong-Soo to require release from his priestly duties.
We then meet the story’s central family, helmed by Gang-Goo (Sung Dong-Il) and Myung-Joo (Jang Young-Nam), who have three children Sun-Woo (Kim Hye-Jun), Hyun-Joo (Cho Yi-Hyun) and Woo-Jong (Kim Kang-Hoon).
Following classic horror trope of moving into a new house, the family is beset with strange doings in their new domain, including the late night work of a creepy neighbour.
Gang-Goo visits the neighbour to make his issues clear and finds what can best described as a classic serial killer’s den completed with mutated animals and a silence stare from the neighbour.
After the noise continues and the police intervene, we instead find the neighbour's house looking like that of an innocent fabric worker. The action then starts to unfold within the four walls of the new family home.
Family members are intermittently infected with brief spats of rage and irrationality, from the father jumping up behind his daughter’s bed or the mother’s breakfast table rage, all accompanied by a bout of perpetrator amnesia over the incident.
However, somehow the altering threat source untethers the terror of the film as we struggle to truly empathise with any character before they turn dark themselves.
Oldest child Sun-Woo then calls her uncle, who is Joong-Soo, the now faithless priest, to beg for his help. After initially refusing, Joong-Soo decides he has one last exorcism in him and rushes to help the family.
From here, it is mainly the film’s middle act that slows the progress – as lapsed priest meets with haunted family – and by then the scares become too sporadic to build towards anything meaningful.
The film gets some technical aspects very right – some creepy cinematography and effective production design, especially as we enter the neighbour’s house littered with hanging dead chickens and tortured faces carved into a tree. The constant presence of crows lined alongside power cables offers some, if slightly conceited, visual mood building.
When horrors interchange their point or character of threat, it can either work highly effectively, as with The Wailing (2016), or start to feel disjoined as with Metamorphosis.
That is not to say there is not enough here to muster scares for a wider audience to serve its purposes (it topped the Korean box office at the end of August 2019). But for more hardened fans of K-Horror, it might leave them left unpossessed with the demon presence they were seeking.