When Hwa-rim, a Korean shaman (Kim Go-Eun), visits the first born son of the wealthy Park Ji-yong (Hong Seo-jun) in L.A., she is convinced that the baby who hasn’t stopped crying since birth despite a clean bill of health is suffering from something supernatural.  She tells her client, who hears screams and has the sensation of being choked whenever he closes his eyes, that she believes his son is the victim of ‘grave’s calling,’ that  ‘one of your ancestors is having a tantrum.’  Back in Korea, she enlists Kim Sang-duk, the geomancer (Choi Min-Sik, "Oldboy," "I Saw the Devil"), who is very disturbed when he arrives at the grave site of Park’s grandfather in “Exhuma.”

Laura's Review: B

Writer/director Jang Jae-hyun’s double whammy of a creepfest has been a monster box office hit in South Korea, taking the number 1 box office slot every week since its release there on February 22.   American audiences may need some time to catch their breath as Jang throws a whole cast of characters in two different locations at us while we’re trying to familiarize ourselves with South Korean customs and superstitions, but get through Chapter 1, Yin Yang and the Five Elements, and everything falls into place pretty quickly.

Chapter 2, The Nameless Grave, is where everything kicks into high gear.  The geomancer and Feng Shui expert who finds pristine burial plots for clients, frowns when he tastes the earth at Park’s grandfather’s grave, which is oddly situated on a mountaintop overlooking North Korea.  There is no name on the simple headstone, although Kim finds a longitude and latitude carved into its back, noting foxes, a bad omen, are present.  Hwa-rim has convinced Park and his more hesitant aunt to cremate the man’s body in order to save the infant and she will perform a ritual requiring five slain pigs and five diggers to keep spirits at bay as Kim and his friend Ko Young-geun, a mortician (Yoo Hai-jin), raise the ancient coffin for transportation to a crematorium.  But Kim has met an old monk at a local temple who tells him the odd site was chosen to thwart grave robbers because of the deceased’s extreme wealth and neither he nor Ko notices one of the five diggers pocket an item found beside the coffin (or the horrifying thing that digger sees in the dirt).  No sooner has Ko begun driving down the mountainside than a storm begins to rage, requiring that the coffin be stored overnight as the soul cannot travel to the afterlife in the rain.  When Ko leaves his post for dinner, that digger reappears and pries the coffin open, just as Hwa-rim and her protégé Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun) arrive to experience ‘something’ swiftly moving past them.

Jang committed to practical effects, using as little CGI as possible, and the work of director of photography Lee Mo-gae is essential to the film’s bone chilling effect.  Grandfather Park is indeed an evil spirit, one only seen in reflection, and he quickly makes his way to L.A. to prey upon his own elderly son and daughter-in-law as he works his way towards the child (his targeting of the daughter-in-law, dancing along with imagined partner to a ballroom competition, is particularly eerie).  There are multiple tips of the hat to “The Exorcist,” beginning with Park’s head turning unnaturally in front of the aghast Kim who’s come to warn him, the possessed man hailing a Japanese emperor and declaring ‘The fox severed the tiger’s waist.’

The Park family’s insidious connection to Japan will come into focus when Mr. Ko discovers what appears to be a second coffin at the burial site, but before you can say ‘double internment,’ a crate twice as long as a normal coffin is unearthed, raised and taken to the temple where the group hopes to shelter for the evening.  Although Kwa-rim spreads sweet rice around the coffin (shades of “Nosferatu”), the household will awaken to the sound of shrieking pigs and she and Bong-gil will come face to face with something huge and terrifying that creates mayhem before transforming into a cloud of flame which dances across the night sky.  Again, Lee’s work combined with effects here is both horrific and beautiful, suggesting German Expressionism crossed with “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Exhuma” is a complex tale of family, cultural betrayal and supernatural ritual tinged with exploitation, the latter of which provides character arc for Rwa-rim, who exposes colleagues to incredible danger.  Jang packs so much into his script that Western audiences may begin to lose patience in the film’s second half, but he has an ace up his sleeve with Choi Min-Sik, the actor’s charismatic performance keeping us rooting for him right up until Kim pulls good pal Ko into his own family photo.

Robin's Review: C+

A wealthy Korean American family is plagued by a cross-generational curse. The family patriarch hires a famous Korean shaman and her assistant to protect their new baby from evil. They, in turn, enlist the assistance of a Fang Shui geomancer and an able undertaker to join in the battle in “Exhuma.”

Writer-director Jae-hyun Jang brings us an Asian horror story about a family tormented by a demon that is threatening the newest born member to the family. This brings in the high=priced team given the task to relocate or cremate the casket of an ancestor buried in unholy land near the border with North Korea. They begin the excavation to bring peace to the family.

There is a problem, though, dealing with the casket. It is raining and tradition dictates that a cremation cannot be done in wet weather and it is raining. Of course, the untended coffin at the grave site tempts one of the exhumers and he tries to open the fancy, preserve coffin. Evil is released.

This all happens early on in the story and the filmmakers begin a slow build of demonic tension that lasts to just after the half way mark. Then, in my mind, things get silly and involves a giant, ancient Japanese Samurai. I think this inclusion, while a part of the story, is a bridge too far. At this point, my attention wandered and what started as a good, spooky supernatural thriller and became overblown.
I think this is the case of the filmmaker having too much to say – or maybe too little – as the story devolved into cliché. More is not always better

Well Go USA releases "Exhuma" in select theaters on 3/15/24, expanding on 3/22/24.