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Exhuma (Pamyo) movie review: Excavating hidden truths in macabre form

Updated on: 03 May,2024 05:08 PM IST  |  Los Angeles
Johnson Thomas |

This rather dense, ambitious and highly creative Korean occult horror has unusual characters fronting it’s unique storyline

Exhuma (Pamyo) movie review: Excavating hidden truths in macabre form

Exhuma (Pamyo) movie review

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Exhuma (Pamyo) movie review: Excavating hidden truths in macabre form

Film: Exhuma ( Pamyo/Korean Title)
Cast: Kim Go-eun, Choi Min-sik, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Jae-cheol
Director: Jae-hyun Jang
Rating: 3/5
Runtime: 134 min

Exhuma, one of the biggest hits in South Korean cinema history, comes to India in a subtitled version. The horror film which garnered Box Office success for its exploration of Korean folklore has a story that exhumes bodies from old graves in an effort to link what’s happening in the present to that of the past. Basically, it’s the Japanese annexation and occupation of Korea in the early 20th century and the resulting animosity between the two nations that gets contextualized here in a horror movie set-up. The narrative that digs deep into hidden truths in family history, gradually begins to uncover a chilling mystery.

This rather dense, ambitious and highly creative Korean occult horror has unusual characters fronting it’s unique storyline. Excavating multiple layers, a Geomancer and his team that also includes a couple of Shamans, hope to lift a dark curse and in order to do this they have to exhume a body from a mountain top grave on the border between South and North Korea.

Kim (Choi Min-sik) the geomancer advises people on the best places for them to bury their loved ones. It’s a feng shui sort of ability and Koreans truly believe in it. In case anyone gets it wrong there can be repercussions that the families may not be ready to face. He is called upon by a family in America whose new born baby is crying all the time and given that there’s no neurological or physiological problem apparent, the parents and a Shaman advisor think it may have something to do with an ancestor’s grave. Park (Kim Jae-cheol) and his family appear to have a burial secret that only the spiritual pairing of Hwarim (Kim Go-eun) and Bong Gil (Lee Do-hyun) might be able to help with, alongside Kim’s remarkable talents.

The clues lead to a remote grave with a plain tombstone. Though the man supposedly buried there was of some importance, his grave seems suspiciously nondescript. The exhumation is carried out and suspicious entities get released inadvertently.

The film is neither disturbing, eerie nor tense, but it is certainly intriguing and keeps you engrossed in its cross-cultural storyline that harkens back to the horrors of Japanese occupation while embedded in Korean mysticism. The film exhibits classic horror tropes in a complex interplay of grave digging, psychological twists, demonic occurrences, and surprising comedy. There are no jump scares here. So don’t expect to jump out of your seats. The slow-to-burn narrative depends entirely on dark richly endowed cinematography by Lee Mo-gae, heavy dialogue, an austere background score, interested performances, cultural symbolism and mysterious occurences to lead up to an unsettling experience. The CGI is minimal, the narrative relies on practical effects to deliver it’s thrills.

This is an innovative way to tell a horror story and may not necessarily be fodder for the horror fans in India. Exhuma builds on regional myth and therefore may not deliver ‘clarity’ to an unfamiliar audience.  But it’s visceral excesses make the macabre seem plausible and could leave you with more questions - much beyond what the movie is trying to convey.

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