The 8th Night (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): A grim but engaging Buddhist horror flick

South Korean film “The 8th Night”, which was released on Netflix two days ago, is a grim but engaging Buddhist horror flick with enough entertaining elements to notice. While surely looking and feeling as gloomy and solemn as your average occult movie about demon and apocalypse on the horizon, the movie is often impressive for its good mood and diligent storytelling, and it also has some surprises for us as steadily building its story and characters up to the expected finale.

During its prologue part, the movie gives the religious background of its story promise. Around several thousand years ago, a very powerful demon attempted to make the human world into total hell, but it was eventually vanquished by the divine power of Buddha, and then its two powerful magical eyes were respectively stored in two stone caskets for preventing its return in the future. These two stone caskets were separately taken to two hidden spots quite distant from each other, and their locations have been kept in secret among their guardian monks for next several thousand years.

However, one of these caskets happens to be discovered at the beginning of the story, and we see how this happening subsequently leads to the eventual return of the demon, which is quite ready to retrieve its other eye once it gets revived. After going through a series of marked human targets during the next 8 days, it will finally get its other eye and then regain all the demonic power belonging to it, and then no one will be able to stop it from bringing hell onto the Earth.

Around the night when the demon is revived, an old monk, who has guarded the other casket for many years at a temple located in a remote mountainous area of South Korea, instinctively senses its return. While he is well aware of how urgent the situation is, he cannot do anything as he does not have much time to live, so, before he eventually dies, he instructs his young pupil Cheong-seok (Nam Da-reum) to look for Jin-soo (Lee Sung-min), who was once under his tutelage but then left some time ago for some unspecified personal reason.

When Jin-soo is introduced to us, we see him silently working at an urban construction site, and he does not seem to be that religious on the surface, but it is gradually revealed to us that his soul has been silently haunted and tormented by not only personal guilt and grief but also many ghosts hovering around him. Although there may be the peace for him in the end if he dies, he cannot die for now as still believing in the cause shared between him and his ex-mentor, and those ghosts often ridicule and annoy him as whispering bad words to his ears every night.

Once he arrives in the city where Jin-soo lives, Cheong-seok clumsily searches for Jin-soo, and the movie shows a little sense of humor from the awkward interactions between Jin-soo and Cheong-seok, who cannot speak due to his longtime oath on silence and often has to depend on his notepad. While not so pleased about being accompanied with Cheong-seok, Jin-soo lets Cheong-seok join his risky mission anyway, and Cheong-seok soon comes to realize how serious and dangerous their mission really is. They must track down the demon before it comes upon its final marked human target, but they will also have to do something against their religious belief for stopping their powerful opponent, and this naturally makes Cheon-seok quite conflicted. Yes, they must prevent Armageddon by any means necessary, but can they be actually permitted to commit such an act like that?

With that difficult moral question constantly hovering over the story, the movie continues to accumulate tension on the screen as the situation becomes all the more serious for Jin-soo and Cheong-seok. As it gets transferred from one marked human target to another, the demon gets closer and closer to its final goal, and we come to learn later that a young woman named Ae-ran (Kim Yoo-jung) is a crucial factor in this circumstance, though she is rather elusive even when Cheong-seok finally encounters her later in the story.

As you have already expected, everything in the story inevitably converges upon the climatic part where we get the usual showdown between good and evil, and the movie keeps holding our attention as before under the competent direction of director/writer Kim Tae-hyung. While this part is not that flashy or bombastic on the whole, the movie never overlooks what is being at stake for its main characters in addition to bringing more human depth to them, and that is the main reason why the rather melodramatic resolution at the end of the story works.

The main cast members of the film are well-cast in their respective roles. While Lee Sung-min, who recently appeared in “The Spy Gone North” (2018) and “The Man Standing Next” (2019), holds the ground with enough raw gravitas, Nam Da-reum effectively complements his co-star with youthful innocence, and Kim Yoo-jung, Choi Jin-ho, Kim Dong-young, Lee Eol, and Park Hae-joon are solid in their substantial supporting parts.

Overall, “The 8th Night” does not break any new ground in its genre territory, but its variation of familiar genre elements is interesting to watch at least. To be frank with you, I was not that terrified during my viewing as a seasoned movie nerd, but I did enjoy its mood and details in addition to appreciating a number of skillful aspects, so I mildly recommend you to give it a chance someday.

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