ReviewNetflix movie review: The 8th Night – Korean horror starring Nam Da-reum adds supernatural twist to murder mystery
- The simple, spooky pleasures promised by a film about sentient eyeballs from hell get lost as the past grievances and regrets of the main characters take over
- For all its late-night horror aspirations and claims to be a supernatural chiller, director Kim Tae-hyoung’s film conjures up remarkably little atmosphere
Wielding prayer beads and a bloodied hatchet, the burned out exorcist anti-hero of The 8th Night is less a crusading warrior than he is an unhinged killer. But when the fate of all mankind is at stake, desperate measures are called for.
Lee Sung-min stars as the dangerously unorthodox shaman Seonhwa, who is sought out by Nam Da-reum’s young Buddhist monk to help stop an ancient demonic evil bringing about the end of the world, in this South Korean horror film streaming on Netflix.
First-time writer-director Kim Tae-hyoung hopes to follow the success of recent horror films like The Wailing and The Divine Fury. He uses elements of Buddhist shamanism to fill out the backstory of this otherwise fairly pedestrian demonic possession mystery, while positioning men of faith as reluctant action heroes more capable than the sceptical local police.
The result is an often chaotic collision of tropes from police procedural and spiritual quest narratives, as both cops and curates alike chase a rampaging, disembodied red eyeball across the South Korean capital, Seoul.
The eyeball’s origins go back 2,500 years, to the time Buddha ripped it and its black counterpart from the head of an all-powerful demon before hiding them on opposite sides of the Earth.
In the present, a disgraced professor unleashes the red eyeball, which hopscotches from one human host to the next over a period of eight days en route to an apocalyptic reunification. The black eyeball has been hidden in a remote mountain monastery for centuries, until it is entrusted to young Cheongseok (Nam), who loses it almost immediately.
While The 8th Night offers some occasionally arresting visuals, with the devilishly grinning faces of the red eye’s possessed victims particularly unnerving, Kim conjures up little atmosphere for what purports to be a supernatural chiller.
As is too often the case in Korean genre fare, the past grievances and regrets of the main characters fight their way to the surface, demanding emotional reckoning and catharsis while distracting from the simple spooky pleasures promised by a film about sentient eyeballs from hell.
Even the string of grisly murders that form the breadcrumbs of the investigation occur almost entirely off-screen, with occasional shadowy glimpses of contorted corpses the film’s only offering to the gods of late-night horror.
For a movie with such a visceral predilection for eyes and sight, The 8th Night displays remarkably blinkered vision.
The 8th Night is streaming on Netflix.
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