What is it with all these recent movies with a negative take on the Catholic church? Director Park Chan-wook (“Old Boy”, “Joint Security Area”) contrives a tale of a shy deliberative Catholic priest, Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho Ð “Joint Security Area”, “The Host”) who is the sole survivor of a vaccine test in Africa to combat a disease reminiscent of Ebola. The aftereffects of this forces him crave to human blood in order to forestall the reemergence of the disease, invokes super human powers, creates the necessity to avoid direct sunlight and arouses his carnal desires.
What we get is the total deconstruction of the priest as his life of service and self-sacrifice regresses into a self-serving if conflicted man. He begins an affair with a childhood friend’s wife (Kim Ok-bin) that evolves into an obtuse relationship as he reveals his blood lust and super powers to her.
High explicitness and copious red fluid dominate the visual beauty of the cinematography with carefully constructed light and shadow. The arc of the story flows well until about two thirds of the way through when it takes a twist into a surreal reality that breaks the flow and jars the consciousness. It eventually returns to a normal arc but much of the momentum is lost. The power dynamics of the story ebb and flow adding a dynamic tension that is gratifying.
There are carefully placed moments of black comic relief within the tale to lighten the mood of this sex, gore and violence movie – A smorgasbord of delights?
Currently playing at the Varsity Theater in Seattle.