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Be careful what you dig for. Well, that’s not quite the saying, but a new horror film from South Korea shows there is more to fear beneath the soil than meets the eye. Written and directed by Jang Jae-Hyun (Svaha: The Sixth Finger), Exhuma – just mentioning that name might send an odd shiver down your back – has an impressive cast with which to round off a great ensemble piece once it hits its stride in the second act and takes us on an addictive thrill ride until the explosive otherworldly climax of its third.

Veteran actor Choi Min-Sik, who wowed audiences in both revenge classic I Saw the Devil (2010) and timeless Oldboy (2003), leads as a famous geomancer or earth shaman. As they excavate one particular grave in search of a long-standing sickness wreaking havoc on a well-off family looking for answers, he and his team may or may not discover something supernatural involved. This is Korean horror at its peak with some twists added.

One could argue that Exhuma offers something for everyone, including two young attractive leads who might make you think you are about to watch a modern love story. Nope. Meet Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) who is this beautiful shaman who seems to be making money helping spirits in present-day Korea – even Japan if she is summoned there.

Beside her stands Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun), Hwa-rim’s sharp understudy – not her lover! They are flying over now to investigate why one wealthy family keeps losing their firstborn child under mysterious circumstances attributed to certain magical powers it pays handsomely for? They have even sent their baby away for special medical treatment in America but Hwa-rim touches down on Asian soil looking forward to obtaining answers about how it all started.

This ordeal turns out much more elaborate than one would expect, causing Hwa-rim to employ geomancer Kim Sang-duk (Min-sik) and his wisecracking mortician buddy Ko Young-geun (Yoo Hae-jin) in the role of comic relief for the movie. And their jokes throughout this dark story serve as a continuing ray of hope that provides some levity in their job. So, obviously first come’s grave-digging at an attempt to get to the very core of what is happening – but once they feel something is just off about the burial site in general, it forces them to “exhume” (hence, title) and move the family remains.

But then there’s this: When one innocent excavator spots what he thinks is a pesky snake slithering across their newly dug massive hole, something unholy emanates from its horrible mouth that may or may not resemble a human face. Wait, what?!

A malevolent force might have been stirred up into the atmosphere leading to an international tragedy spreading across South Korea, Japan and even North America. We are not talking tsunamis or giant monsters here when we say “tragedy.” Rather than such disasters though Exhuma involves wicked spirits invading heroes’ bodies and minds in this thrilling new occult offering that will be like catnip to any Exorcist franchise enthusiast out there.

It could be said that South Korean fan-favorite actor Choi Min-Sik is currently at a stage in his career that is similar to Gary Oldman’s. Both award-winning performers are later in their careers, now veering for more aged but begrudgingly likable characters on the big screen. Oldman, after all, once played Lee Harvey Oswald in his heyday, along with the truly devilish villain of Leon the Professional, while Min-Sik was once the nightmarish serial killer in I Saw the Devil.

However, Exhuma makes use of relatable character archetypes and rapport between its protagonist who has perpetual concerned grandpa look and this intense tale set in today’s world just so as to keep it on Earth. Thus, for instance, no one watching would consider Choi Min-Sik as an exorcist or priest; he is simply old man but with suspicious mind-set and mannerism of a grandfather.

In spite of this Hwa-rim frequently struts forth her elaborate moves to communicate with ancestral spirits throughout this film. Even if you are not any kind of interested party here however Exhuma smartly intercuts these highly ritualized sequences by using high concept editing technique such as placing them right by side along other scenes where rich foreigner pays huge money to do surgery on baby at US hospital; someone sees character possessed by diabolical entity; etc This fast post-production work would definitely make Ben Wheatley proud.

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