Review by Sean Boelman
One of the most exciting parts of Fantasia is getting the opportunity to discover some of the best Asian hidden gems of the year. Kim Jae-hoon’s Devils offers an intriguing spin on the body swap genre, boasting two great performances and enough crazy twists to be entertaining from start to finish.
The film follows a homicide detective who becomes obsessed with capturing a serial killer, finally catching him, but after an accident, discovers that their minds are trapped in each other’s bodies. It’s a premise that’s vaguely reminiscent of Face/Off, but Kim’s take on these familiar tropes is plenty fun enough to work.
Kim has managed to craft a thriller that, despite following some familiar beats, remains entirely engaging. The hour-and-forty-five minute runtime flies by as the plot unfolds with every wild twist and turn. Although there’s certainly an outlandish nature to the story, it never goes so over-the-top as to disillusion the viewer.
Ultimately, there’s not a ton happening in the movie on a thematic level. Although the film occasionally asks some questions about the use of excessive force in the police system, the film never really dives into this. The closest thing the movie makes to a statement is that it’s the “lesser of two evils,” which is a reductive stance.
If there’s something that the film lacks, it’s character development. Although the detective character is given a worthy motivation — his family — it still feels somewhat generic. And the villain, while effectively menacing, is also rather bland. The movie would have been served to lean a bit more heavily into the snuff film aspect of the characters’ storyline.
The best thing about this film, as is often the case with body swap movies, is its lead performances. Jang Dong-yoon and Oh Dae-hwan both show a ton of range, each having a vulnerable and an intimidating side. Their ability to switch between the two in an instant is fantastically impressive.
Kim’s visuals are also quite strong. There are some moments throughout that are extremely brutal, and they are shot in a way that is viscerally impactful. The movie also has a few sections that effectively implement a neon-lit color scheme, and it would have been nice to see even more of these stylistic flourishes.
Devils is one of the most fun movies at this year’s Fantasia Festival, with an enjoyably crazy story and a nice dose of brutality that packs a punch. It’s pretty surprising that this is the debut of filmmaker Kim Jae-hoon, because Kim’s mastery of pacing is simply exquisite.
Devils screened at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs from July 20 to August 9.