Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Priests: Father Kim and the 12th Assistant Deacon
are all well and good for minor spirit infestation, but if you are facing a
5,000 year old arch-demon, you need to go to the Roman Catholic Church.
However, you can’t settle for skeptical, hip and modern priest in the Pope
Francis tradition. You need someone old school like Benedict XVI. It also helps
if he is a little ornery. Father Kim Bum-shin definitely fits the bill.
Unfortunately, he has trouble keeping assistants once they experience the long,
perilous exorcism of Lee Young-sin. Good will battle evil short-handed in Jang
Jae-hyun’s The Priests (trailer here), which opens this
Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.
Choi Joon-ho is the twelfth assistant deacon sent to help the maverick Father
Kim in his epic mission. If that sounds vaguely familiar than perhaps you saw or
read about Jang’s award winning short film, 12th Assistant Deacon, which he remade and expanded as the feature length The Priests. It might be longer, but you
still will not find much padding here.
Young-sin was once a member of Father Kim’s congregation, but she is no longer
the innocent girl he knew. Frankly, the demon would prefer to possess a boy,
which is why it tried to force her into committing suicide. However, even in
her now vegetative state, Lee’s spirit is strong. Still, she is no match for
the beast within her. Nor were Father Kim’s previous eleven assistants. The
guilt-ridden Choi does not inspire much confidence either, but at least he was
born in the year of the tiger, which apparently counts for a lot when you’re
tangling with demons.
stays faithful to the essence of his massively atmospheric short film, while
expanding the scope rather effectively. The climatic exorcism remains the film’s
signature scene and it is still all kinds of tense. However, Jang has added one
wrinkle—the use of a pig as a temporary vessel for the exorcised spirits, in
accordance with the Biblical exorcism of the Gerasenes demoniac (a.k.a.
Legion). Presumably he had more budget available for animal wrangling this time
The Priests is a gripping horror
thriller that treats themes of good, evil, Catholicism, possession, and sacrifice
with life-and-death seriousness. It is hard to top the original Exorcist from 1973, but the two films
definitely share a close kinship. Along with his prior short, The Priests suggests Jang could be the
next major genre filmmaker to emerge from Asia. Yes, they are that good.
enough, the lesser known cast of the short film might just take the honors over
the famous stars of The Priests. As
always, Kim Yun-seok has a big presence as Father Kim, but at times his
uber-gruffness borders on the perverse. Likewise, Gang Dong-won’s Deacon Choi
is frustratingly callow and shallow before he gets his rude demonic wake-up
call. However, Park So-dam will scare the pants off you as the slightly
disturbed Lee Young-sin.
There is hardly any blood or gore in The Priests, because it runs deeper than
that. Jang masterfully controls the mood, steadily cranking up the suspense and
dread. He integrates a great deal Catholic imagery and demonic archetypes
alongside distinctly Korean elements, such as Father Kim’s shaman colleagues
(they are on refreshingly good terms). Altogether, it is a highly distinctive,
metaphysically unnerving horror film that will be perfect for family viewing
this Thanksgiving night. Enthusiastically recommended for genre fans, The Priests opens tomorrow (11/26) in
Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas and next Friday (12/4) in New Jersey at the
Labels: Horror Movies, Korean Cinema