With its grim aesthetic and mythology-tainted story, The 8th Night presents an intriguing Korean supernatural horror. However, upon closer inspection, much of what was initially a huge draw towards the film actually holds it back for a large proportion of its runtime, picking up only when many will have already given up on it.
This review of the South Korean Netflix film The 8th Night contains no spoilers.
In the very simplest sense, The 8th Night is a tale about a seasoned exorcist monk (Lee Sung-min) and his greenhorn understudy (Nam Da-reum), who are the only ones who can take down an ancient spirit responsible for possessing humans and wreaking havoc. The stakes were painted as being much higher than they ever felt when watching the film, especially during the first half. Considering the spirit taking center stage here had been asleep for millennia, it wasn’t very lively for the first fifty minutes.
Early pacing issues were not helped by the film repeatedly laying the groundwork for its narrative. It opened with an epilogue detailing how these evil spirits had been kept at bay for previous centuries, but it then revisited this concept a while later when explained to one of the film’s protagonists. For me, it really disrupted the trickle (because I can’t justifiably call it a flow) of what was an already limping plot at this stage.
It was throughout the first half of the film that I couldn’t help but feel like I’d seen The 8th Night before. Familiarity can be a good thing, but not in this instance. There were some real Indiana Jones vibes and perhaps even a hint of The Exorcist, and early on, I took this as a sign of promise. But, as the scenes passed by and that little slider on the bottom of the screen ticked further and further along, all I could think about was how much more I’d enjoyed those other films compared to the one I was watching at that moment. I just wasn’t engaged at all.
Of course, the fact that I’ve spoken only about the first half of The 8th Night in this regard and not the whole film would suggest that it experienced some sort of uplift later on, and it did. Once it had finished explaining the mythology multiple times and the spirit had reached the stage where it would engage with our exorcist monk protagonists for the first time, the film improved substantially. There were actually a few set-pieces where blessed axes and prayer beads worn as knuckle-dusters came into play, which did a good job in allowing the film to pick up some pace. Whilst I can’t say that it managed to sustain that raised tempo for the remainder of the film, it did at least break up the monotony of what had come before it.
By this point, the two main characters of interest had also become established enough that I kind of started to care about them and the relationship they had. As far as evil-conquering duos go, they weren’t exactly groundbreaking, but young Cheong-seok and Park Jin-soo had their moments where they were an entertaining pair. In a film that didn’t make the earth move for me, it was a tried-and-tested ingredient that did just what it needed to, providing levity and a little fun to what was otherwise a very drab affair.
Whilst it did put in the work in its closing half, The 8th Night will be a film beyond redemption for the less patient viewers. The potential was there for it to be much better than it was, but by stringing out the storyline with repetition and a handful of unnecessary threads, it failed in achieving this. However, by far the biggest issue I took with The 8th Night was that it was so disengaging whilst also absolutely smacking of so many other films. Its plodding nature gave me far too much time to think of so many similar things that I had a far better time with, and that is never a good thing.
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