Exhuma: A Riveting Dive into the Heart of Korean Occult and Shamanism

Upon its release, Exhuma quickly rose to prominence, securing the top spot at the Korean box office and marking a record opening for a film in 2024.

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

In the world of cinema, where supernatural elements often blend with profound ideas, Exhuma, the latest film by director Jang Jae-hyun, stands out for its eerie depiction of Korean shamanistic rituals. Known for his mastery over the occult and supernatural genres, Jae-hyun takes the viewers on a thrilling ride into the heart of Korean occult practices. The movie features a star-studded cast, including Choi Min-sik, Kim Go-eun, Yoo Hae-jin, and Lee Do-hyun. Exhuma is a worthy addition to the director’s earlier works, such as The Priest and Svaha: The Sixth Finger.

Set against the backdrop of a wealthy family in Los Angeles plagued by supernatural events, Exhuma follows the journey of a shaman duo tasked with the protection of a newborn child. The narrative weaves through the intricate processes of exhumation and the traditional “gut” rituals intended to appease wandering spirits, culminating in a story that is as much about the supernatural as it is about the exploration of human emotions and trauma.

A standout moment in the film is Kim Go-eun’s character conducting a major ritual to protect the grave diggers from spirits, showcasing an unprecedented level of authenticity in depicting shamanistic practices. Jang Jae-hyun’s dedication to realism is evident in his two-and-a-half years of research into Muism, ensuring the film’s shamanic elements are portrayed with fidelity.

As the narrative unfolds into its second part, a new story emerges following the tumultuous exhumation. The discovery of another, more ominous coffin beneath the original ignites a quest to uncover hidden secrets and confront even greater evils. This narrative pivot might divide audiences, especially those expecting a strict adherence to occult genre conventions. Yet, the compelling performances of the ensemble cast, led by the ever-reliable Choi Min-sik, along with the dynamic energies of Kim Go-eun, Yoo Hae-jin, and Lee Do-hyun, ensure a riveting journey. Their synergy leaves no moment wasted, propelling the story through its various twists and turns.

Critics and audiences alike have lauded the film for its meticulous attention to detail and the authenticity with which it portrays shamanistic rituals. The film’s reliance on real locations, props, and a minimal use of CGI has been highlighted as a testament to Jang’s commitment to realism in storytelling. This, combined with the stellar performances of its cast, particularly Kim Go-eun and Lee Do-hyun, whose portrayals have been described as both captivating and haunting, elevates Exhuma beyond the confines of traditional horror cinema​​​​.

Upon its release, Exhuma quickly rose to prominence, securing the top spot at the Korean box office and marking a record opening for a film in 2024. This commercial success, coupled with its selection for the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, underscores the film’s global appeal and its significance as a cultural artifact that transcends geographical boundaries​​.

Despite its many achievements, the film has also received some criticisms. Some individuals have pointed out that the two narrative arcs of the movie do not flow well together. They suggest that the shift from a horror-focused plot to a broader commentary on historical trauma may take away from the overall coherence of the story. However, even these criticisms serve to highlight the ambitious scope of Jang’s vision. The film not only aims to entertain but also to stimulate thought and dialogue about Korea’s past and its lasting impacts on the present.

Exhuma is a film that is as complex as it is compelling, offering a rare glimpse into the depths of Korean shamanism while also engaging with themes of history, trauma, and the human condition. As it continues to captivate audiences worldwide, it serves as a reminder of the power of cinema to explore the unseen and to tell stories that resonate across cultures and time.

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