'Exhuma' review: Ghouls from the gravesite 2
Lee Do-Hyun in a scene from 'Exhuma.' Columbia Pictures

'Exhuma' review: Ghouls from the gravesite

It is not hard to imagine why this is currently the top-grossing film of South Korea for 2024 so far.
Fred Hawson | Apr 05 2024

Rich Korean-American Park Ji-yong's newly-born male son was suffering from a mysterious malady which Western medicine could not figure out. He hired Korean shaman Lee Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) and her assistant Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun) to intervene. Hwa-rim diagnosed the situation as a case of "Grave's Call," where an enraged spirit of an ancestor vented his vengeance on the eldest son of every generation after him. 

Upon their return to South Korea, Hwa-rim called on geomancer Kim Sang-duk (Choi Min-sik) and mortician Ko Yeong-geun (Yoo Hae-jin) to help her with her mission. They found the unmarked gravesite of Mr. Park's grandfather to be located on top of a mountain. They exhumed the ornately-carved coffin out of the ground, and Mr. Park wanted it cremated. However, they had to defer this because it was raining very hard.

The two feature films which Jang Jae-hyun had both written and directed, namely "The Priests" (2015) and "Svaha: The Sixth Finger" (2019), are in the mystery-horror genre with elements of religion. This new one is along the same vein, but more concentrated on Korean traditional beliefs and practices that deal with death and the afterlife. This one also touched on the deeply-rooted historical conflict between Korea and Japan.

To be completely frank, I went to watch this film mainly because of the presence of veteran actor Choi Min-sik, the star of such iconic films like "Oldboy" (2003), "I Saw the Devil" (2010) and "The Admiral: The Roaring Currents" (2015). I must say, that even if he is now in his 60s, his magnetic screen presence has not diminished at all. Choi's portrayal of Mr. Kim Sang-duk was convincing and authoritative. When his Mr. Kim spoke of feng-shui, we'd believe him.

It actually took me completely by surprise to see other familiar Korean actors in the cast. I knew Yoo Hae-jin from his films "Luck Key" (2016) and "Confidential Assignment" (2017). The others I knew from K-dramas -- Kim Go-eun from "The King: Eternal Monarch" (2020), "Yumi's Cells (2021) and "Little Women" (2022); Lee Dong-yeun from "Sweet Home" (2020) and "The Glory" (2022); and Kim Sun-young (who was a senior shaman here) from "Reply 1988" (2015), "When the Camellia Blooms" (2019) and "Crash Landing on You" (2019). 

It is not hard to imagine why this is currently the top-grossing film of South Korea for 2024 so far. Even in local cinemas, "Exhuma" is still going quite strong even at one month in its run, likely due to good word of mouth. Surely, the all-star cast was a factor. Hearing Kim and Lee chanting spells was quite memorable. The eerie atmosphere and ghostly effects had us at the edge of our seats. That giant wire-bound coffin was terrifying sight in itself, but more so when we see the samurai creature inside rise up to its full towering height.  8/10. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."