Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Divine Fury (2019)

Director: Kim Joo-hwan
Notable Cast: Park Seo-joon, Ahn Sung-ki, Woo Do-hwan, Jo Eun-hyung, Choi Woo-sik, Kim Si-eun

Had The Divine Fury been made in any other country besides South Korea and been made in any other time, the film would have been a hokey genre affair with a tagline like “First he brought the fight to the octagon, now he brings the fight to Satan!” To be fair, that is essentially what this film is in a nutshell. At the basics, it’s about a star MMA fighter who finds himself side by side with a Vatican priest fighting off a horde of demons possessing a bunch of people in Seoul. The brilliant maneuver that The Divine Fury brings to the floor is that it takes itself shockingly seriously and it’s impeccably executed. It’s stylish as hell (pun intended), packs one hell of a genre-bending punch (pun also intended), and still manages to deliver a story with soul (is that three for three?). Perhaps it’s because my expectations were tempered by the idea of an action horror film with MMA and exorcisms, but The Divine Fury achieves its tasks with far more excitement and impressiveness then it has any right to accomplish.

Now, to be clear, The Divine Fury is not a true 50/50 split of MMA and exorcism films. Although MMA and films related to the sport are something that exists now, the plot and narrative of this film is far more in tune and aligned with the exorcism genre than anything else. If anything, the MMA portions, an opening fight sequence and his fame as an MMA fighter, are essentially character pieces for our lead hero. That’s not to say that this film doesn’t feature some incredible fight sequences, particularly in the third act. Star Park Seo-joon ably navigates the leaps of the genre and still truly delivers in the action as the lead. The film doesn’t necessarily embrace its action tones until the final 20 minutes or so, but when it does it’s a blissful experience that can easily stand up as some of the best action of the year. Yes, he ends up going full Blade in the end with demons rather than vampires, but the hand to hand combat is well executed and incredibly well shot. Action fans might find the lack of more set pieces a missed opportunity, but when it happens – hoo boy is it a delight.

Of course, that means that the main brunt of the narrative and story is meant to be carried by horror rather than action. The Divine Fury, weirdly enough, also exceeds in this arena too. Exorcism films are a dime a dozen and often as cheap. If you’ve seen a few of them, you already know the tropes and where this film aims to run is going to be relatively predictable. Yes, our hero is an atheist at the beginning that struggles with Christianity and his traumatic past. Yes, he meets a supportive and older gentleman who is an exorcist that acts as a mentor. Yes, there are a variety of different exorcism scenes that parallel some of the classic moments from exorcist cinema. In fact, outside of the action approach to filming some of the exorcism sequences and the previously mentioned MMA slant, The Divine Fury follows the tropes relatively closely. The difference is that it’s incredibly well executed. Director Kim Joo-hwan absolutely shifts the film's style when needed to embrace the horror and action. The horror sequences are tense and deliver some great visual moments and the film still doesn’t sacrifice its entertainment value for slow burn moments. Each exorcism grows more intense until finally, we end up with a full-on battle sequence. Even at its most familiar, The Divine Fury is executed in such a way that it successfully pulls it off.

With a variety of fantastic performances, a slathering of neon-soaked darkness that blends classic religious horror atmosphere (dark cloaked villains, the distorted possession faces) with John Wick inspired visuals, and a knack for weaving through its genre-bending, The Divine Fury is a massive surprise. It fringes on cheesy, B-grade cinema at times, but the strong production values and A-grade approach makes it work with relative ease. While my expectations certainly affected how I went into the film, once the credits started to roll it was easy to admit that The Divine Fury is furiously divine.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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