The Movie Waffler First Look Review - EXHUMA | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - EXHUMA

Exhuma review
Paranormal experts unleash an evil force when they exhume the grave of a wealthy family linked to a supernatural curse.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jang Jae-Hyun

Starring: Choi Min-Sik, Kim Go-Eun, Yoo Hai-Jin, Lee Do-Hyun

Exhuma poster

Even if we claim not to believe in such superstitious nonsense, I wonder how many would admit to the extent which ritual and shibboleths do actually structure our day? Who of us would ever leave new shoes on the table, purposefully step on a crack or neglect to salute a magpie? We've all made wishes, touched wood, engaged in sigil magick to curse that annoying co-worker: this is basic stuff. Is it such a stretch, then, to accept, as according to the dedicated fringes of social media, that a shadowed elite manifests an oppressed reality via ritualised semiology and psyops? The principle is tempting for the cowed, because, just as with religion, the idea of a guiding hand/fist behind it all suggests there is meaning to the whole huzzah, a secret method, and not simply chaos and cruel absurdity.

Exhuma review

The concept is central to Jae-hyun Jang's conspiracy horror Exhuma, in which a semi-official group of shamans and spiritualists deal with curses, ritual magic and the supernatural creatures which "live in the dark and look towards bright spaces" - yikes! Except maybe not... Contracted to deal with a familial curse, each mystic has their own specific role within the assembled team. For example, there is Sang-deok (Choi Min-sik), who is one of those geomancers they have these days. Just like how we might identify a vegan, we know he is a geomancer because he tells us so: in laborious voiceover with pretty-but-on-the-nose images of nature visually empathising Sang-deok's points. "I find soil for the dead and the living," he intones, as the screen fills with babbling brooks, fungi, insects on bark. Circle of life, etc. But this sort of extended sequence is typical of supposed horror/thriller Exhuma's overtly literal, talky presentation. Over a two hour plus running time, the action often consists of deep exposition of simple plot points along with swollen character interactions, sidestepping the sort of genre excitements the audience may be primed for.

Exhuma review

"Fuck those non-believers," Sang-deok may argue, and at certain points across the narrative he has a point. Most of such sequences involve Hwarim (Kim Go-eun), a shaman whose elaborate ceremonies provide spectacular visual set pieces, involving dance, tons of extras and, regrettably, dead pigs (as an almost vegan - I still eat eggs to maintain my hard won physique - I object to an animal having to die just because someone wants to make a film #callback). Research reveals the centrality of Shamanism to Korea, and also that women account for a majority of their number, a statistic reflected by Hwarim. Perhaps this cultural context is instructive to Exhuma, with prior understanding granting automatic and vital weight/stakes to the proceedings. Because watching from a position of open-minded unfamiliarity, the film is quite the drudge, with a lack of dread you'd expect for an occult horror, nor the sort of urgent stakes for which you'd hope in a thriller.

Exhuma review

From its largely static mise-en-scene, populous cast and multi-narrative, Exhuma is a very televisual watch: it feels a bit like when you enter a room and someone is halfway through some sort of byzantine telly show on Netflix or similar, an episodic sensation consolidated by the use of chapters and headings throughout the film. That said, when the scares do periodically hit, they hit hard. Within Exhuma there are around a handful of horror sequences that are so unsettlingly strange, and constructed with such virtuosity, that I was genuinely scared: like, too scared to go upstairs on my own scared. Delicious. These scenes creepily work within the evocative, liminal space between tech and tradition (I'm remembering undead laughter through a Samsung and getting prickly skin). Within one we witness the desecration of yet more dead pigs (an animal that has totemic relevance to Korea). Problem is that these sequences are a little too few and far between, leaving Exhuma more sow's ear than silk purse.

Exhuma is in US cinemas from March 15th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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