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‘Exhuma’ review: Dir. Jang Jae-hyun (2024)

Exhuma is in select UK cinemas now.

With just three features under his belt, Jang Jae-hyun continues to prove himself as one of South Korea’s premiere filmmaking talents and one of the country’s most promising horror directors. The award-winning director and writer has already made a name for himself with 2015’s The Priests and 2019’s Svaha: The Sixth Finger, both of which topped the Korean box office upon release, with the latter becoming one of the most popular South Korean movies on Netflix. His latest offering, Exhuma (?? or Pa-Myo in its native Korean), is his most ambitious yet, harnessing his natural flare for blood-curdling scares with palpable human consequences and escalating them to new levels of fear.

The supernatural horror stars Kim Go-Eun (Coin Locker Girl, Little Women) as Hwa-rim, a respected mudang (Korean Mu-ist shaman) hired alongside her protégé Bong-gil (Sweet Home’s Lee Do-hyun) to help the rich Park family lift what is believed to be an ancestral curse from their newborn son. To remove the so-called ‘Grave’s Call’ curse and pacify the ancestor, his grave must be relocated and purified – enter feng shui expert and geomancer Kim Sang-deok (Oldboy legend Choi Min-sik). As bodies pile up and blood starts to splatter, the group, assisted by mortician Yeong-geun (a scene-stealing Yoo Hae-jin), quickly discover sinister supernatural secrets that should have stayed buried. 

With striking visuals, sound design that’ll get your heart racing and blood pumping, and a truly original monstrous reveal, Exhuma is a feast for the senses. Jang has assembled a veritable A-list of South Korean talent in both cast and crew, including cinematographer Lee Mo-gae (I Saw the Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters), composer Kim Tae-song (Bedevilled, Han Gong-ju) and visual effects by Train to Busan’s Son Seung-yeon.

In front of the camera, while genre stalwart Choi provides a predictably sturdy performance, it’s Kim who steals the show with her talent and technique, switching effortlessly between Korean and Japanese, and fully fleshing out the character of Hwa-rim with equal amounts of badassery and vulnerability. With her classy wardrobe and love for spin classes, she brings a distinctly modern, city-girl sensibility to a character so based in ancient Mu practices, blending Korea’s past and present in a way that becomes impactful to Exhuma’s central themes.

Undoubtedly, the jewel in the crown of Exhuma’s numerous memorable set pieces is the ‘Passing of Misfortune’ ritual, which sees Hwa-rim and Bong-gil attempt to appease the aggravated ancestor by absorbing negative energy from the earth. With pounding drums and expertly choreographed knife work, Kim throws herself into this scene entirely, harnessing a wild and frenetic energy that’s at once gleeful and unhinged in intensity, and the entire scene generates an electric atmosphere that radiates through the screen. 

This scene will, somewhat understandably, generate comparisons to Na Hong-jin’s seminal Korean folk horror The Wailing – especially for Western audiences with scarce cinematic exploration of Mu-ism – but Exhuma’s second act instead spirals off into a different energy entirely, recalling instead the black magic ghost stories of Hong Kongese horror, rich in fantastical folklore and theatrical thrills alike. Although not essential, a rudimentary understanding of the historically rocky relationship between Korea and Japan (in particular, Japan’s imperialist past and colonisation of Korea) will undoubtedly improve one’s enjoyment and understanding of some of the more seemingly outlandish scares and overreaching themes of unearthing often-ignored pasts and airing out collective societal anger.

Like many South Korean films, Exhuma boasts a meaty runtime of just over two hours, and while it is compellingly paced for the most part (Jang definitely understands the importance of peppering a movie this long with a significant selection of equally placed scares), there is a distinct lag around the midpoint after a particularly climactic reveal, where the pacing starts to sag under the weight of the consistently unfolding narrative. However, as Exhuma barrels towards a fiery climax, it more than picks up the pace, leading to an explosive conclusion of familial politics, failed rituals and crises of faith, and making Exhuma one of the must-see horrors of 2024.


Amber T



Exhuma is one of the must-see horrors of 2024.


Exhuma is in select UK cinemas now.

Amber T is a Leeds-based writer, reviewer, programmer podcaster and UK correspondent for FANGORIA, with bylines at ARROW, Ghouls Magazine, Filmhounds and Grimoire of Horror, as well as essays published in releases by 88 Films and Second Sight. Amber is an East Asian genre expert, with particular focus on Japanese and Korean horror cinema.


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