Quite a different horror-thriller, “The Priests” stands apart due to its themes, which include the Catholic Church, exorcism, and religion in general, along with some metaphysical elements.
As a car with an Italian priest who holds a creature covered in a black cloth in his lap is speeding, it hits Young-sin, a high school student. Priest Kim, who is something of a persona-non-grata among the Church circles, knows the girl and visits her in her hospital, and is soon convinced that she is possessed by demonic spirits. She proceeds on securing a license to exorcise the girl, but has trouble finding a deacon to help him, since every one of them seems to detest the procedure. Eventually, he ends up with Seminary student Choi, the 11th in the row.
Jang Jae-hyun in his debut directs a film that is clearly separated in two parts. The first one entails the events that lead to the exorcism and the second the ritual itself. The issue with the film, though, is that this separation also applies to quality. The first part is disjointed in terms of script and mediocre in terms of acting (apart from some comedic scenes) and direction, while the second part excels in all of the above and additionally, in terms of its technical aspects.
In that fashion, the first part tries to make some comments regarding church politics and corruption inside its circles, but fails, while the various events that occur seem disjointed and quite misplaced. The only excuse I could probably think is that the script assumes that the spectator knows much about the Catholic Church and so, it does not need to explain further. However, for the “ignorant” audience, the first part’s only purpose is to serve just as a background for the second part.
The exorcism sequence, on the other hand, is truly magnificent in all its aspects, including amazing acting by both Kim Yun-seok as Priest Kim and Gang Don-won as Deacon Choi, impressive grotesque cinematography by Go Nak-seon and spectacular editing. Along with the special effects, and the matching music that actually heightens the horrific atmosphere, result in a true masterful scene, which actually manages to save the film, as it becomes a truly agonizing thriller.
The general acting of the two protagonists, along with this last part make for a film actually worth watching, since the ending can make someone forget the first part.