Exhuma

Italian Premiere | In Competition 

 

Guest star:
JANG Jae-hyun, director
KIM Young-min, producer

 

Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) and Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun) are modern-day shamans particularly skilled in the arts of exorcism. We first see them on a flight to Los Angeles, where a wealthy Korean-American businessman has summoned them in regard to his infant child, who appears to be under the influence of something sinister. Not all of the family is happy to see the pair arrive, but Hwa-rim soon realizes that this affliction affects other members of the family as well. She suspects a “grave’s call” – namely, a dead ancestor who, for whatever reason, is disturbed and unhappy in his grave.

This will require an exhumation and reburial, for which she will require the help of two old colleagues, feng shui expert Kim Sang-deok (Choi Min-sik) and undertaker Young-geun (Yoo Hai-jin). The two are excited at the prospect of a large paycheck, but their anticipation shifts to unease when they actually visit the grave site, which lies just below the border with North Korea. Sensing something evil and dangerous about the grave and its contents, Kim reverses course and refuses to go ahead with the exhumation.

Director Jang Jae-hyun has charted a clear path for himself in the Korean film industry, directing three films in the occult genre and finding success with each one. His debut The Priests (which screened at FEFF) was a surprise hit during its release in 2015, selling over 5 million tickets and helping to launch the career of future Parasite star Park So-dam. His sophomore effort Svaha: The Sixth Finger starring Lee Jung-jae was also well reviewed and popular, but with Exhuma he has moved into another stratosphere, remaining atop the box office for close to two months and amassing over 11 million admissions. Genre films of this type do have an audience in Korea, but the performance of Exhuma was in many ways unprecedented.

For sure, great casting was a part of the film’s appeal. The veteran presence and aura of Choi Min-sik gives depth to the character of the feng shui expert, and forms a nice contrast with the youthful, powerful energy of Kim Go-eun who is terrific as the shaman.

The always excellent Yoo Hai-jin and the up-and-coming star Lee Do-hyun round out this appealing quartet, who would be great fun to watch onscreen even if there were no spirits to appease or curses to break.

As for the plot itself, director Jung adopts an unusual structure for his narrative, dividing it neatly into two parts. The first half plays out more like a conventional genre film, but at the film’s midpoint the plot literally descends down another layer, opening up a new realm for the film to explore. Without giving too much away, we can say that the film’s symbolism expands from this point on, and the weight of history and colonization begin to make themselves felt.

Some viewers have taken issue with the film’s two halves, and the threads of logic that hold them together. But Exhuma leaves its viewers with much to think and talk about, as well as some unforgettable imagery. Without a jump scare in sight, the film creeps out its audience through the accumulation of chilling, realistic details and the occasional flourish.

The story’s ultimate message may be seen as rather downbeat, but Exhuma’s success has provided a much-needed injection of hope to the struggling Korean film industry.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: JANG Jae-hyun
Year: 2024
Running time: 134'
Country: South Korea
29/04 - 9:45 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
29-04-2024 21:45 29-04-2024 22:59Europe/Rome Exhuma Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org

Photogallery