The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] 'Exhuma' brings horror with shamanism, but fails to connect stories

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Feb. 22, 2024 - 14:12

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A scene from A scene from "Exhuma," starring (from left) Yoo Hae-jin, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Go-eun and Choi Min-sik (Showbox)

Director Jang Jae-hyun, also known here as a "K-occult master" thanks to his hit films "The Priest" and "Svaha: The Sixth Finger," returned with a horror flick that portrays terrifying practices of Korean shamanism, imbued with fine acting of veteran actors such as Choi Min-sik and Kim Go-eun.

"Exhuma" follows the events that unfold for a group of exorcists, an undertaker and a feng shui specialist, who take on the job of relocating a tomb of a wealthy family, in return for a substantial amount of money.

Separated largely into two arcs, the first part of the movie follows the events that occur as the group executes the task of removing the grave from its site.

The second part focuses on the stories that unfold as the group discovers that there is an ominous secret hidden beneath the coffin they took out.

"Exhuma" consists of Jang's careful efforts to deliver super-realistic, detailed scenes depicting Korean shamanism -- such as the traditional process of exhumation and "gut" rituals held to appease wandering spirits.

Small touches help make things convincing, such as carefully portraying the Korean feng shui specialists' method of carrying out their tasks -- for example, tasting the dirt to determine the quality of the land.

Because these things, which are familiar sights to Koreans, are so realistically portrayed, the film achieves a new level of horror.

The veteran cast puts in a strong performance to add to the immersive experience.

In particular, Kim Go-eun, who plays the young exorcist Hwa-rim, delivers a memorable performance performing a gut, captivating the audience with her terror-inducing songs, oracles and prayers.

However, despite the fine acting and attention to detail, "Exhuma" stumbles in unfolding its plot.

The film's two narrative arcs do not connect well with each other -- while the first part of the movie focuses on horror, the second part of the movie centers on depicting the trauma that the Korean Peninsula has experienced over its history.

The main villain also changes as the story progresses -- widening the gap between the two arcs, and making the film appear like separate episodes.

"Exhuma" hit the local theaters on Thursday.

A scene from A scene from "Exhuma," starring Kim Go-eun (Showbox)