Take a Drink: for flashbacks
Take a Drink: “Rosicrucianism”
Take a Drink: for rosaries
Take a Drink: whenever animals freak the fuck out
Do a Shot: for jump scares
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Demonic possession horror has been on a huge upswing in the last decade, dominating the horror marketplace thanks to both cheap production values and the hold it has on the psyche of practically every world culture. Unfortunately, the results have been mostly indistinguishable garbage, perhaps because none of them can come up with a name that isn’t hopelessly generic, like… The Rite, The Possession, The Last Exorcism, The Exorcism (ofemilyrose), Deliver Us From Evil…
This is what giving up looks like.
The Priests is South Korea’s entry into the genre, and like usual, you can depend on the Koreans to take worn out tropes and give them a little spark. The always excellent Kim Yeon-sook (The Chaser, The Thieves) stars as a rogue exorcist for the South Korean branch of the Catholic Church. A high school girl with a very personal connection (Park So-dam) is in a coma, and he feels her last hope is a full-fledged exorcism, with the help of a young seminarian (fast-rising dreamboat Kang Dong-won) with authority issues and a haunted past of his own. The entity they’re wrestling with may be something far stronger than they thought, however.
At first, The Priests seems to be matching the blueprint of The Exorcist like so many other films in the genre. Soon it becomes clear that director Jang Jae-hyun isn’t so interested in examining crises in faith or ambiguity like most every other film in the genre has taken a pass at. Rather, he rather quickly lays out the frightening reality these two priests face, and explores how each of their past traumas shape their response to it. He also grounds the film with distinctly Korean details, like a shaman who also takes a crack at exorcising the demon, and with whom Kim’s priest has a mutual professional respect. The way he contrasts the dark age struggles in this girl’s family’s poor apartment and the bustling, lit-up, thoroughly modern shopping district just outside the alley leading there is masterful, and drives home how these priests and their struggles against ancient forces can’t hope to be believed if they ever bothered trying to tell their story. There’s no earthly reward in this business, just consequences if something were to go horribly wrong.
Another piece I liked very much was how he even delved into the motivations of the demon. Jealousy is what drives it- jealousy for these weak-willed, primitive humans which have God’s favor over his first creation- the angels. The demon wants to prove once and for all that humans are barely more than the primates they resemble, and unworthy of such attention.
Not that we don’t do a pretty good job of that all by ourselves.
Jang shoots everything with the stylish sheen we’ve grown accustomed to from Korean productions, judiciously applying CGI and making great use of light and shadow in his almost uniformly dark settings. He wisely puts character first, however, and his cast is up to the task. Kim is cynical, world-weary, yet effortlessly charismatic, and while my Korean wife threw shade on his accent, Kang show’s he more than just a pretty face as he wrestles inner demons as substantive as the fallen angels they’re battling. Finally, Park embodies both innocence and primal fury, reportedly making all of the deep growls and manly bellows her character emits in the throes of possession herself. Freaky.
Settle down and take a Riddlin, xXx
Outside of this cheesy flourish or two, Jang relies a bit too much on the ‘ol standbys of loud noises and jump scares, which in this day and age just aren’t… scary.
The ending cops out ever so slightly, but enough to transform from a meaningful statement into a forgettable happy feeling. It has its faith cake and eats it too.
Kim should have gone to jail- preserving the bittersweet feeling of having done an incredibly difficult but good thing, one he knew yielded no earthly reward- only fear and derision.
The list of great possession films begins and ends at The Exorcist. However, The Priests is a pretty damn entertaining entry into the genre.