Fantasia 2023 Review: DEVILS, Body Swapping Film with a Few Too Many Twists
Devils is director Kim Jae-hoon’s high concept, body swapping, ultra-violent, twist-upon-twist-y feature debut and it is a fun ride, but that may not be enough for some more discerning film fans. Buckets of blood and savage violence drench the film in a thick layer of gruesome glee, yet there are enough storytelling hiccups to make this film a somewhat hesitant recommendation for genre film fans.
When a sinister quartet of dark web murderers commits a series of violent slayings in order to stream snuff to their online fans, it sends a team of homicide detectives into action. Leading the charge is Jae-hwan (Oh Dae-hwan, Deliver Us From Evil), whose brother-in-law was among the victims. The leader of the group, Jin-hyuk (Jang Dong-yoon, Project Wolf Hunting) is the only one taken into custody, leaving three killers free to roam. As Jae-hwan is transporting Jin-Hyuk back to the station their car gets into a horrendous wreck, leaving both men injured and off the radar of authorities.
The pair mysteriously reappear a month later, though there’s something very different about them. Jae-hwon and Jin-hyuk appear to have swapped bodies, a condition that leaves a police detective on the run in the body of a serial killer while the killer lives in the cop’s body, with his family, and doing his job. It’s not an ideal situation for either man, but especially troublesome for Jae-hwon, whose only chance at securing the safety of his family is to use his new appearance to track down his former compatriots, who turned tail and fled when he was picked up.
It’s a great concept, and director Kim pulls no punches when it comes to exploiting the possibilities therein, but there’s something very sloppy about the execution that places Devils just shy of the new genre template it could be.
Korean cinema is notoriously violent and unafraid of displaying its basest instincts on screen. With a crew of antagonists who feed on torture and murder, that’s a fertile feeding ground for gratuitous violence, and Kim delivers. The action is messy and chaotic, but mostly in a good way; the frequent face offs between Jin-hyuk and his former allies are brutally executed and competently shot. The biggest problem isn’t there, though, it is in the credulity testing leaps of logic in the third act that take what was a largely airtight script and blow it to pieces.
A third-act reveal is a true stunner that really tips Devils on its head. Unfortunately, the follow-up to this wonderful piece of plotting undoes that good with weak follow through. This initial twist comes at a point a bit too early to sustain itself through the finale, and in order to keep the momentum going, Kim throws in a few more twists that manage to squander a lot of the goodwill he’d built up to that point.
The premature reveal sends the film careening around the map in terms of cohesion and eventually makes the whole film feel sloppy retroactively, which is a shame because it is two-thirds of a very fun movie. The final product is still fun, but can be picked apart all to easily by anyone even remotely interested in craft.
Devils was my first on-site film of this year’s Fantasia, and it wasn’t a bad way to get warmed up, but it could’ve been a belter, and that is definitely disappointing. Many genre film fans will enjoy this, but I’d recommend dumping your brain in a bucket of popcorn and letting it wash over you without paying too close attention, it plays much better from a distance.
The film enjoyed its North American premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.