Exhuma: Ghosts of the Past

Directed by Jang Jae-hyun, Exhuma follows shamans, Hwa-rim (played by Kim Go-eun) and Bong-gil (played by Lim Dong-hyun), who have been called to the Parks, a Korean American family in LA experiencing unrest among their firstborns. Through their investigation, Hwa-rim and Bong-gil discover that this family is being haunted by one of their ancestors and decide that they must move the body of said ancestor to appease him.

Back in Korea, with the help of feng shui master, Kim Sang-deok (played by Choi Min-sik), and undertaker, Yeong-geun (played by Yoo Hae-jin), they find the body of the ancestor in an unmarked grave that holds secrets that unleash more evil when disturbed.

Underneath the horror in Exhuma, a story emerges about Korea’s history with Japan. I only realised the two countries have a complicated history recently through my engagement with K-Pop and K-Dramas, but Exhuma goes beyond just letting us know that it exists. Using the spiritual elements that come with shamanism and feng shui, the film touches on the generational implications of land being taken forcefully, and the lasting effects of a person betraying their people on their family.

The story culminates in the realisation that metal rods have been placed in the ground to block the good energy of the land, and even to fulfill a prophecy of sorts of ‘a fox splitting the spine of the tiger.’ More than working to free the Parks of the torment of their restless ancestor, our main characters end up fighting to stop even more damage being done to their land.

Exhuma also asks whether momentary comfort at the expense of integrity is worth the damage that could be done later. As we live and exist on the different lands we are on, are we aware of how our actions will affect those that come after us, even if we will not be there to see them?

I sometimes think of how history affects our current world; how it influences how cultures are created, how people are taught to function and even to an extent, what happens spiritually (if you believe in that). A lot of responsibility is attached to our histories, and I truly believe that the best way to move forward is to take the lessons of the past along with us.

Exhuma is in theatres on Friday, March 22nd, 2024.

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