The texture of finding balance in a good action film while balancing the spirit of the times can be a tall order. Recently starting with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and then with “Atomic Blonde”, Charlize Theron has upped the game while still understanding the inherent acting needed to convince the audience of her character’s plight. With her new film “The Old Guard” premiering on Netflix, she finds a balance but is able to maintain the theatrical feel. While the freedom allowed in the storytelling might be tricky in theatrical, it has undoubted effectiveness here. Like her film “Aeon Flux”, this kind of picture fills the mid range that many studios gave up years ago. These more practical-based action pictures became the stuff of legends because of what they were able to do. What is interesting her is the diversity of characters, how they work and how the characterizations allow them to both be human and bad ass. The charge of the course needs to be led by Theron and she provides that amply without overtaking the contributions of the others.
This works diametrically very well especially with Matthias Schoenaerts who has done very interesting work since he first came on the scene years ago (his performance in “Rust & Bone” — see our interview here) showed power with vulnerability. There is an interesting parallel here between him and Tom Hardy. Hardy seemed to get ore bulky as his career progressed while Matthias has leaned out which works well for the characters he has been playing. He brings that here as well and it is that balance which is the balance of the film. The movie doesn’t slide into tropes though it pays homage to it. With some flashbacks, there are some hints of Xena for sure. While this might have worked as a high end series for Netflix, doing it this way still retains that movie feel without restricting the talent. The base boards have been laid so the inherent concept works.
Adding to the balance is Kiki Layne who goes toe to toe with Charlize especially in one sequence. Theron is gracious enough to allow sharing the screen like this but also hired Gina Prince-Bythewood who is an interesting and yet wholly suitable choice for this story. Granted the supernatural in a way plays into it but is done more grounded than say something like “Highlander”. The film works well but the imagery is fairly straightforward and not overwhelming in style like say a “Mission Impossible” or even “Atomic Blonde” but that might be a truly conscious choice. “The Old Guard” is effective, lean and powerful in many of the ideas it presents while also keying into cool genre concept and hard hitting visceral action.
The texture of Korean horror is pushing elements beyond their breaking point in being both uncomfortable but mythic and cautionary in a certain way. “Metamorphosis” is a play on that idiom but it leans a lot on the basis of “The Exorcist”. Now granted the perception is different because of a different culture and country. This story is based in many ways in traditionalism and also a sense of pride. It dwells on the balance of adequate behavior and perspective. The basis of the story is built in the first 20 minutes where a priest specializing in exorcisms does his best to save a traumatized girl and through the multiple faces of the demon is not able to fully complete his task. He is shamed, not by the church bt the family he was trying to save and so a curse of sort is placed on him and his family per se. The bigger ideas here in terms of concept are interesting though ultimately it is kept very insular. The bulk of the movie follows the father’s extended family (his brother who has a wife, two daughters and a son). While it is meant to play in a way as a haunted house movie of sorts, the mechanics are a little bit muddled and never quite function exactly as they might.
Certain ideas and switches of identity are effectively done using a small space and little to no effects. In one space of about 10 minutes, this gives the film a unique visceral quality but it can’t quite stay there. Granted this was made on smaller budget. Yet there is a intensity of production design that we see at an adjacent house which really effectively sells the horror and yet its explanation is short of fruition despite making sense. It is the conclusion after a big set up of sorts that ultimately brings the story back to its insular setting. Without giving spoilers away, the priest must again confront his fears. Another scene leading up to the ending again takes that use of identity and amps it up but not for any true plot viability. It goes on a bit too long for that. One specific demise had a lot of power in its impact but in many ways is used as an after thought when its actual occurrence could have fueled a far greater amount of despair against the demon per se. This might have been an interesting build. “Metamorphosis” has some good ideas behind it despite it horror tropes roots but never fully delivers beyond its structure the greater existential story that could have been.