A sort of mix between ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Face/Off’ but with a lot bloodier horror and grimness, ‘Devils’ is some tough, grue splattered, body-swap thrills.
When non-nonsense detective Ja-hwan (Oh Dae-Hwan) and his partner stage a raid on known serial killer Jin-hyeok (Jang Dong-Yoon) and his gang of deviants, Ja-hwan’s partner (who also happens to be his brother-in-law) is slaughtered in the fracas that ensues. Giving chase, Ja-hwan hunts down Jin-hyeok and the two disappear into the local mountain woods. A month later they reappear, crashing into Ja-hwan’s precinct. Jin-hyeok is swiftly arrested and Ja-Hawn reunited with his loving family, but it soon registers things are not all they seem. Jin-hyeok now screams innocent and claims to in fact be Ja-hwan, the two body-swapping while missing, with Jin-hyeok now inside Ja-hwan’s body making family with his wife and child. Min-seung (Jang Jae-Ho), a fellow police officer, begins to believe the outlandish claims and sets off to find out what really happened during the month the cop and criminal disappeared.
To say too much about ‘Devils’ would be to spoil how the escalating horror of Ja-hwan’s situation unspools and the clever credence given to the (initially seeming) loopy high concept. Sure, some suspension of disbelief is needed but ‘Devils’ plays everything straight: going for dark mood and extreme violence over comedy hi-jinks or through-the-roof action of the aforementioned body swap classics. Everything is treated seriously and the body swapping sci-fi element is really just an excuse to put the hero in extreme danger and tell a very dark and bloody thriller. Kim Jae-Hoon’s film pulls no punches in its depiction of the devoid of morals serial killer and bloody body horror he unleashes. It’s a tough watch, not least coupled with the oppressive hopeless tone and lower budget visuals, making ‘Devils’ a grim, grubby ride.
In fact, it is so much that it becomes somewhat detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the film. At least depending on one’s tolerance for extreme horror. The film is certainly well-constructed, propulsive, and well-acted making it a thrilling thriller but the pure decent into evil of its main antagonist and the lengths its protagonist must go to stop him, may leave some a little too queasy rather than entertained. Still, if that’s one’s vibe then there is a lot to enjoy, and the film does have cleverly constructed detours/revelations that make sitting though all the grue worth it.
Playing everything straight and serious and keeping the action grounded may disappoint some looking for an over-the-top action ride but the crux of the two leads disappearing for a month allows information to be drip-fed to keep one engaged in between all the copious bloodletting. A little rough around the edges (this doesn’t have the slick sheen of say recent bloody masterpiece ‘Project Wolf Hunting’ that made its extreme gore easier to digest!) ‘Devils’ is still an assured debut from Kim Jae-Hoon and a solid thriller if you can palette the nihilism and bloody torture.