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Exhuma - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2024


Jang Jae-hyeon

Choi Min-sik
Kim Go-eun
Yoo Hae-jin
Lee Do-hyun
Kim Jae-chul Kim Min-jun Kim Byung-oh

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Exhuma - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) is a shaman, and she and her partner Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun) are asked for help by a family in the USA. Apparently, their baby is haunted by something, as it does not stop crying, even though physically everything is fine with it. Soon, Hwa-rim is sure that the unfortunate choice of the grandfather's final resting place is the reason. The shaman therefore calls the geomancer Kim Sang-deok (Choi Min-sik) and his partner Young-geun (Yoo Hae-jin) to the scene. Since the pay is very good, they accept the task immediately. However, after Sang-deok has looked at the grave, he prefers not to have anything to do with the matter anymore. According to the principles of feng shui, there is a lot wrong with the grave. Hwa-rim suggests performing a ritual during the exhumation to protect everyone involved from evil spirits. So, the grave is finally opened, but the coffin itself is supposed to stay closed and to be cremated at once. But since it suddenly starts to rain and cremation in this weather would bring bad luck, the coffin is stored in a nearby hospital for the time being. There, someone opens the coffin, though, and disaster takes its course. The ghost of the grandfather now haunts his family, but the whole truth about the grave is much more dangerous...

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Review: My expectations for "Exhuma" were quite high, after all, the shamanism theme of the trailer reminded me of the fantastic horror movie "The Wailing". But apart from that, Choi Min-sik is in the movie too, so that the perfomances should also be on a high level. In fact, the movie was able to meet most of my expectations, but there are some flaws on a narrative level that spoil the fun. Director Jang Jae-hyun struggles with similar problems as he did in "Svaha - The Sixth Finger", because the story does not follow a clear structure. Instead, there are constant sidesteps that at least divide the movie into two. However, it has to be praised that the atmosphere is always oppressively dark and that the mysterious and unknown evokes a subtle horror that makes the movie work as a whole. Moreover, it doesn't hurt that the cast is also able to get the most out of their rather flat characters.

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Of course, the person who ranks first in this context is the afore-mentioned Choi Min-sik ("In Our Prime"), who gives the geomancer more nuances than was to be expected looking at the script. Yoo Hae-jin, of all people ("Confidential Assignment 2: International"), delivers the second best performance, as he takes on a much more restrained role than usual and therefore manages to create interest in his character. Unfortunately, with the rest of the cast it becomes clear that the individuals lack their own peculiarities and specific motivation. The introduction of the movie still works quite well, though, and you expect to find out more about the characters. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that we will not get the depth we had hoped for, though. Sadly, some stupid decisions of screenwriter/director Jang also fall back on the characters in the movie, so that you sometimes have to question how intelligent our heroes really are. In the end, their decisions are anything but wise and entail serious consequences.

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That brings us to the story. The real fascination, of course, comes from the occultism and shamanism, which runs through all events. A shamanistic ritual is carried out in order not to awaken evil spirits, salt and horse blood function as a means of defense against demons and spirits, and ancestors are shown a lot of respect. Something that may seem a bit culturally unusual to Western viewers, but at the same time, it underlines the peculiar touch of horror that characterizes the movie. We get scenes that are reminiscent of an exorcism, but at the same time, feng shui and the energy lines that are important in geomancy play a significant role too. All this opens a door to an unknown world in which a lot can go wrong or in which things could unravel for the worse. The horror moments initially focus on subtle images, indistinct mirror images, or extremely short shots of a snake with an almost human-like head for example. This approach, in which our imagination fills in the gaps and therefore creates the kind of horror that is customized to the individual, is extremely effective.

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Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the second half of the movie. Because after we assume to know what is going to be the story's focus, that first episode comes to a surprisingly quick end, and we get an encore, so to speak. Which is far less subtle, and even though the enormous creature at the center is quite frightening, the horror here is only half as shocking. Much more negative, however, is the fact that you feel quite disoriented, because you somehow feel cheated by the story. Furthermore, the events only give the characters things to do which advance the story in some way but push them into the background as individuals. That's why we don't even care about the fact that more and more is at stake. A scene in a hospital, which runs parallel to one at a grave, also seems like an unnecessary bonus in the showdown trying to create more suspense through fast editing.

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Despite all that, director Jang seems to have struck a chord with "Exhuma", because the movie was immensely successful in Korea. Surely this is due to the excellently dense atmosphere, which is able to score points, especially at the beginning as it immediately draws you into the movie. But it is also the shamanism and the world that lies between this life and the afterlife, which is portrayed in an unusual way, that keeps you hooked. Nevertheless, the more the movie progresses, the more obvious the weaknesses of the unstructured screenplay become, and you might end up quite disillusioned at the end. Until then, though, the gripping atmosphere, which is also underlined by a well-done score, and Choi Min-sik manage to keep you entertained. As a horror movie, "Exhuma" is undoubtedly able to score some points, but it is not the masterpiece it could have been or that would have deserved its enormous success. Since this is still a good horror movie, you can maybe just be happy about the fact that director Jang will surely get another try soon thanks to the movie's success at the box office.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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