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By Josiah Teal | July 2, 2024

NOW ON SHUDDER! Vengeance from beyond the grave comes forth in Jang Jae-hyun’s supernatural horror film, Exhuma. Lee Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) is a spiritual expert, a shaman who seeks to provide peace for those restless in the afterlife. When she and her protégé, Yoon Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun), are called to Los Angeles to investigate an infant plagued by a dark spirit, they dive into their unique blend of “science and superstition.” Split across six chapters, Exhuma showcases a blend of arthouse and genre cinema as Hwa-rim and Bong-gil discover that some graves should never be uncovered.

Park Ji-yong (Kim Jae-cheol) has employed Hwa-rim and Bong-il to remove the curse on his infant son. Park, the young patriarch of a wealthy and prominent South Korean family, will stop at nothing to see his son healed. The two shamans soon conclude that to remove the curse, they must exhume the body of Ji-yong’s grandfather, laid to rest over 100 years ago. As the spirit has become uneasy in the afterlife, he has begun to “grave crawl,” seeking out punishment for those still in the living and yearning for his family to join him beyond the grave. To exhume the body, Hwa-rim and Bong-il must call upon the services of Geomancer Kim Sang-deck (Choi Min-Sik) and mortician Yeong-Geun (Yoo Hae-jin) to end the suffering of the Park family.

“Hwa-rim and Bong-gil discover that some graves should never be uncovered.”

The opening three chapters concern the “grave crawl” of Mr. Park’s grandfather and the layers of curses brought upon the Park family. Choi Min-sik of Oldboy fame is as mesmerizing as ever as the feng shui expert and Geomancer Kim Sang-deck. Min-sik brings gravitas and emotional nuances as terror unfolds in the opening chapters. Chapters 4-6 focus on the aftermath of the disturbance and haunting at the Park grave. Possessions, curses, and a moderate body count follow as the effortless chemistry of Kim Go-eun and Lee Do-hyun takes center stage. Each performance, either in an ensemble or isolated, adds to an eerie atmosphere surrounding Exhuma, creating a thrilling character piece in the heart of an occultic thriller. It’s high art performances in a ghastly dread-horror package.

Writer and director Jang Jae-hyun masterfully combines crime thriller tropes with a supernatural environment. Jae-hyun carefully lays out the plot’s promises and builds organic ways to subvert expectations in each chapter. Everything from the costuming to the performances to the supernatural lore feels intentional. Kills are purpose-driven, exposition is hidden artfully in conversation, and even the jump-scares feel earned as they drive the tension to a boiling point. The ritual to exhume the Park grave is a primal, Paganistic exhilaration welcoming the terrors to follow. The haunting of the Park family and curse revelations will fill horror fans with unnerving delight. The climatic payoffs to each set of chapters intensify the deep character study at the heart of Exhuma. Jang Jae-hyun has created a Stephen King-esque horror wrapped in the flair of modern South Korean cinema.

Like Feng Shui itself, Exhuma is in perfect balance. It’s violent, but never for violence’s sake. Supernatural but never cheesy. A nuanced blend of Sam Rami’s Drag Me to Hell with Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder. Min-Sik is as good as ever, elevating already strong text to a performance worthy of study. Kim Go-eun flies off the screen with each shaman ritual, completely committing to the role. Chemistry throughout the cast is palpable throughout each chapter, making the character arcs even more earned. Moments of Exhuma feels like a tale of two movies, yet nothing detracts from the cathartic climax of the complete narrative. Exhuma is a masterpiece of art-horror and South Korean filmmaking, ensured to enthrall viewers into repeated viewings and deep dives into each chapter.

Exhuma (2024)

Directed and Written: Jang Jae-hyun

Starring: Choi Min-sik, Kim Go-eun, Yoo Hae-jin, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Jae-cheol, Kim Sun-young, Kim Jin-an , etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

Exhuma Image

"…a Stephen King-esque horror wrapped in the flair of modern South Korean cinema."

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