[Fantasia 2023 Review] DEVILS (악마들)

Detective Choi Jae-hwan (Oh Dae-hwan) has a personal grudge against a killer, and things only get more personal as their paths become intertwined forever. In DEVILS (악마들), directed by Kim Jae-hoon, two rivals go head-to-head in a riveting crime thriller.

During the film’s fluorescent opening, the detective’s brother-in-law is murdered. Killer Jin-hyeok (Jang Dong-yoon) flees, leaving Jae-hwan dismayed to discover the body. This spurns not only the detective, but the entire police unit to go after the killer with all the force they have. Detective Jae-hwan Choi and his young colleague Min-seong (Jang Jae-ho) end up chasing the suspected murderer through a forest, but only Min-seong returns. The unit spends a tense month looking for the detective. But Jae-hwan suddenly returns — with Jin-hyeok by his side. The detective’s family and coworkers are overjoyed to welcome him back, while the accused criminal gets chained to a hospital bed.

The captured killer insists he’ll only talk to one member of law enforcement: Jae-hwans’ colleague Min-seong. Min-seong visits the suspect to try and gain some information about the killing spree. But to his surprise, the young killer reveals that he has swapped bodies with Jae-hwan during their mysterious month in the woods. And Min-seong notices that his boss is acting unlike himself, setting off a chain of unbelievable twists and turns.

The South Korean mixed-genre thriller DEVILS is a thrill ride from the moment it begins to its stunning conclusion. Every actor in the small cast gives it their all, and the detective-killer duo especially have dynamic roles. You could argue this body-swap movie is convoluted at points, but after several viewings of DEVILS, I wouldn’t agree with that. Jae-hwan’s anger toward the killer targeting his community is a powerful driving force for him, and he’ll stop at nothing to capture the perpetrator.

In many great movies, all the parts work as one to immerse you in the theatrical experience, and DEVILS (악마들) is a stellar example of this. Writer and director Kim Jae-hoon places you right in the middle of this fast-paced crime thriller. The actors give moving performances, especially the two leads Oh Dae-hwan and Jang Dong-yoon, who have great chemistry together. The film’s tense score feels both modern and timeless, making the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

The drama and stakes of this movie are as taut as a wire. When Jae-hwan and Jin-hyeok are in the same room, every glance or misspoken word could set off a domino effect of violence. The direction and writing in this movie make every moment count, and the story blazes by during the 106-minute run time.

Before you go putting on this film for a casual movie night, be warned that DEVILS does not refrain from being gory and utterly brutal. It is the kind of movie that makes you gasp and groan out loud from the bloody, torturous acts of violence depicted. That said, channeling knife-twists of psychological terror reminiscent of Old Boy, DEVILS is a must-see for horror fans. This intense body-swap movie will leave you guessing until the very end.

DEVILS (악마들) makes its North American premiere on July 26, 2023, at Fantasia International Film Festival.

Remy Millisky
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