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Horror flick ‘Exhuma’ disappoints narrative

SEOUL (ANN/THE KOREA HERALD) – Renowned director Jang Jae-hyun, dubbed a “K-occult master” for his successful films “The Priest” and “Svaha: The Sixth Finger,” makes a comeback with a chilling horror film delving into the eerie realm of Korean shamanism. 

The movie features stellar performances by veteran actors Choi Min-sik and Kim Go-eun.

“Exhuma” tracks a team comprising exorcists, an undertaker, and a feng shui specialist as they undertake the lucrative job of relocating a wealthy family’s tomb. 

The film unfolds in two main segments, with the initial part focusing on the challenges faced during the grave’s relocation.

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.

A scene from “Exhuma,” starring (from left) Yoo Hae-jin, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Go-eun and Choi Min-sik. PHOTO: ANN/THE KOREA HERALD SOURCE

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 centres 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.