Exhuma – Tomb Raiders: Outstanding Cast Performance Like Possessed, Breathless Drama Until the Last Minute

After many days of eagerly awaiting, although not officially released in theaters yet, Exhuma – Tomb Raiders has already set unprecedented records, finally having its first early screenings in Vietnam. True to its status as the top-grossing blockbuster in Korean theaters for 3 consecutive weeks (until March 14th), Exhuma brings audiences a truly captivating cinematic experience. Despite lasting over 2 hours, the film hardly has any moments that distract the audience, thanks to its dense plot, supernatural elements, and mysterious twists that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Following the footsteps of Hwa Rim (Kim Go Eun) and Bong Gil (Lee Do Hyun), two Korean shamans, who receive a business proposition from LA. Their client is the eldest grandson of a wealthy family. Despite being just a newborn baby, this child has undergone physical pain that even top doctors cannot diagnose. Therefore, his father, Park Ji Yong, seeks help from these Korean shamans to solve the root of the problem. Upon entering the hospital and meeting their young client for the first time, Hwa Rim realizes that the issue stems from the grave of an ancestor in the Park family. She immediately decides to seek the intervention of feng shui master Kim Sang Duk (Choi Min Sik) and undertaker Ko Young Geun (Yoo Hae Jin) to relocate the family’s ancestral tomb. Upon their first visit to the ancient tomb, Mr. Kim wants to stop the job despite needing the money desperately. He has a strong sense of foreboding about an unnamed grave in a special area, where there are many foxes and, above all, the Park family members are determined not to reveal the secrets about the person inside the coffin, nor allow it to be opened. After being persuaded and reluctantly accepting the job, a grave-raising ritual takes place, followed by countless horrifying events for both the Park family and the quartet, as they unintentionally unleash an evil force buried deep underground for centuries.

Although telling a single continuous story, Exhuma is divided into several short chapters, making the audience feel like they are watching a condensed television series. If viewers have seen other works by director Jang Jae Hyun, notably Svaha: The Sixth Finger, they will easily grasp and embrace the story that Exhuma wants to tell. Many issues are intertwined in one work, from feng shui, folklore beliefs, Buddhist teachings to history, making viewers absorb a considerable amount of information even though the story is simply about excavating a tomb. Despite being a film about shamans, scenes of exorcism have appeared frequently on Asian screens in general and Korean films in particular, but this is the first time audiences have seen a comprehensive and authentic exorcism ritual. From the images of pigs used as sacrificial offerings, horse blood smeared on the face of the female shaman, the pounding drums mixed with screams, an incomprehensible language, and of course, the complete lack of subtitles,… all contribute to a highly valuable whole, making the audience hold their breath with each swing of the protagonist’s knife.

Exhuma has truly provided audiences with a cinematic experience beyond expectations. If expecting a horror film with high-jump scare moments, this is not it. Exhuma delves deep into spiritual and mystical matters; while jump scare scenes are not abundant, the fast-paced plot, thrilling moments, and unpredictable twists still force viewers to stay highly focused and are haunted many times. Folk beliefs such as ancestor worship, burial, reincarnation, summoning spirits,… are also mentioned a lot, which is quite close to the beliefs of Southeast Asian people, specifically in Vietnam, thus adding to the chilling factor for viewers.

Integrating historical messages through mysterious spiritual elements

It cannot be denied that the explanations about feng shui, beliefs, unseen rituals, or the process of excavating ancient tombs or summoning souls,… have stimulated the audience’s excitement. However, it must be noted that the downside is when these feng shui, belief, and Buddhist teachings are not really close to the majority of the general audience, leading to difficulties in receiving an overwhelming amount of information. This is also partly why the film has faced some controversies, as many viewers are not truly satisfied with this cinematic experience. Additionally, some historical knowledge, new concepts during the process of the four characters gradually uncovering the secrets of the ancient tomb, also raise some confusion.

Overall, in terms of acting, the film is almost flawless and is a truly seamless combination of two generations on the Korean screen. Each actor contributes to enhancing the interest and drama in the tomb-raiding story of the quartet. The reasonable and clever division of roles has helped the film bring a new and unfamiliar but vivid cinematic experience, which can still create a sense of familiarity.

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