The easiest, most obvious comparison point for director Kim Jae-hoon’s Devils is John Woo’s 1997 Face/Off. While not an exact one-to-one correlation, the two are similar enough that it’s definitely worth a mention and provides a good idea of what to expect. Both revolve around a cop and a serial killer who swap bodies and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse, though Kim’s film works more in thriller territory than Woo’s bonkers action realm. None of this is meant to be dismissive, and though they walk similar lines, Devils does enough by the end to differentiate itself and make excellent an intriguing use of its core concept.
A group of brutal serial killers are abducting, torturing, and butchering people then posting the videos on the dark web for public consumption. As his brother-in-law and partner becomes one of the victims, homicide detective Choi Jae-hwan (Oh Dae-hwan) is particularly driven to capture the perpetrators. In hot pursuit of the group’s leader, Cha Jin-hyuk (Jang Dong-yoon, Project Wolf Hunting), the two get into an accident and disappear. When they resurface a month later, it appears the two have somehow switched bodies, Jae-hwan’s mind now inhabiting Jin-hyuk’s body and vice versa.
For the bulk of Devils, the plot unfolds much as one might expect. There’s confusion, and despite his protestations, no one believes Jae-hwan is who he says he it—except maybe, just a little bit, his new mentee, Min-sung (Jong Jae-ho). He must escape to both clear his name, catch the other killers, and, since Jin-hyuk looks like the detective and has inserted himself into his unsuspecting family, keep his wife and daughter safe from harm at the hands of this vicious psychopath.
Though it trods this familiar territory, Devils has enough to stand on its own merits. The two leads turn in fantastic performances, each inhabiting the body of the other and selling the dual roles. Jang seamlessly slips between personas, shifting gears even from line to line. Kim’s direction is self-assured and stylish, and the whole package has a ‘90s vibe, from the snuff film angle (that was big at the time) to the killers’ Day-Glo rave aesthetic.
And when the story does veer off the beaten path, Devils packs a wallop. Already plenty sinister and mean-spirited—there’s a fair amount of torture, not to mention bodies being dismembered on video—the curve takes the movie into even darker territory, following unexpected paths that plumb the depths of the human soul and push at the lines of morality. The very end unravels a touch as it tries to get too clever for its one good one more time, but what remains is a strong, creepy thriller that puts a nice spin on a recognizable narrative. Think Freaky Friday but murder. [Grade: B+]