Korea has become known for exporting some of the most daring horror movies out there. Train to Busan, I Saw the Devil, and Oldboy are three examples. Exhuma follows the tradition of taking familiar elements and assembling them in a fresh, culturally specific way. It’s a paranormal chiller with bite, thanks to an intelligent story and several surprising plot twists.

Hwarim (Kim Go-eun) is a famed shaman hired to investigate a mysterious ailment that plagues the first-born children in a wealthy family. She and her protégé Bong Gil (Lee Do-hyun) team up with veteran geomancer Kim Sang Deok (Choi Min-sik) and mortician Ko Young Geun (Yoo Hae-jim) to begin the search for answers. The clues lead to a family grave, inexplicably hidden away in the middle of nowhere. They collectively decide to exhume the coffin and examine the remains. Doing so unleashes a terrifying force that makes the whole situation exponentially worse.


A Hollywood studio version of this story would probably just use the entity for a lot of generic jump scares. Exhuma goes way beyond that, revealing an entire myth layer by layer. The team identifies strange qualities about the coffin that require analysis and provide unexpected revelations. Later, there are additional discoveries regarding the grave site that deepen the mystery. By continually introducing new details, the film builds suspense that keeps you both intellectually and viscerally engaged.

Director Jae-hyun Jang generates an eerie atmosphere for the story to unfold in. Bloodier scenes definitely make an impact, but even those without gore create a sense that something evil is looming over the characters. You really feel as though the team is taking on an unseen force that has the upper hand on them. Choi Min-sik, in particular, contributes to that. His performance as the geomancer effectively conveys a mounting dread as it becomes increasingly clear what they’re up against.

At 134 minutes, Exhuma is on the long side. There are spots where it drags slightly. A little tightening would have helped it achieve the sort of breathless pace that turns very good horror movies into legitimate classics. That minor issue aside, the film offers plenty of chills to keep you waiting with anticipation to see how things will turn out in the end.

out of four

Exhuma is unrated but contains strong language and some graphic violence. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan