Suffering is a part of living; each creature on this planet is capable of suffering and, in many cultures, each has its own stories and mythos as to how human suffering came to be. Or, at least an explanation as to why it exists. In writer/director Kim Tae-hyung‘s supernatural thriller, THE 8TH NIGHT (제8일의 밤), we see these ideas examined through a Buddist lens, where the concept of fate, karma, and eternity are interwoven with each character’s path. The film’s horror is supernatural in nature, featuring possessed victims and the age-old story of defeating evil before it overcomes the world in perpetual darkness. However, the story’s capturing of the universal struggle to overcome human suffering, and Park Jin-su’s character arc touching upon the Four Noble Truths will give viewers plenty to chew on past the film’s initial horror elements.
THE 8TH NIGHT (제8일의 밤) starts its audience with the legend of the two demonic beings that the plot revolves around. Almost 2000 years ago, these two beings tormented humanity brutally, and it was through the intervention of Buddha that humanity was relieved. But there were conditions. These beings were locked away in far-reaching, nearly inhospitable places. However, the red being (seen in the form of an eye) could be reunited with its counterpart if it fulfilled certain conditions. Through the possession of 7 weak humans through the span of 7 days, and matching other conditions, it could then succeed in bringing pain and suffering to both the living and the dead. Needless to say, when the story jumps forward to 2019 on the eve of a blood moon, shenanigans are afoot. Time truly becomes of the essence, and those who have their part to play do so because of their actions and the karma those actions have manifested.
Director Kim’s screenplay is incredibly thoughtful in its exploration of spiritual enlightenment as well as exploring the Buddhist teachings as it pertains to pain and suffering. While the audience is provided a basic rubric at the beginning of the film, the breadcrumbs Kim weaves into the script to add layers and move the proverbial goal posts further apart for the film’s central characters is fascinating. It also works well for its intended purpose in keeping the audience guessing, but not needlessly so. The writing helps to elevate the story beyond a typical “save the day” scenario. The intelligent screenplay alone is enough to prompt me to tell you all to seek this film out.
While the film’s themes stand out, it is the performances from the film’s cast that really help the character development shine off the page. Lee Sung-min’s Jin-su wears suffering like a shroud; his sole purpose now is to keep the demons from re-joining together and causing ultimate long-standing pain. With that comes sacrifice, which is something that he is willing to take and something he tries to impart onto the young monk Chung-seok (Nam Da-reum). Nam’s handling of Chung-seok serves as a contrast to Jin-su – innocent versus world-weary. Kim Yoo-Jung’s Ae-ran is an enigma, but this lends itself to the character at hand. Utilizing the emotion in her eyes, she does not need words to express the character’s inner turmoil. These three, as well as others in the cast, really lifted the characters off the page, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I could envision anyone else in these roles.
Now, for the horror and supernatural. More specifically, the FX makeup and the VFX featured in this film. The possessed individuals the viewer sees throughout the film are eerily portrayed, and this is in large part due to a combination of direction, how frames were shot, and the performances provided by the actors. Makeup had a hand in amplifying the supernatural components. However, this is definitely a great case of how performers can act without relying on makeup providing the scare factor. The same can be said for the VFX utilized to highlight the red-eye entity in the possessed victims. It didn’t distract or overpower what we saw onscreen. That said, the design of the red-eye is simple, yet memorable. And its in that simplicity that I think the Makeup and VFX teams really shone.
THE 8TH NIGHT (제8일의 밤) is beautiful, yet tragic. Conveying suffering at its core, it would be impossible for the viewer not to take something away from this film. Part of this is due to Director Kim’s intelligent script, taking the viewer through twists and turns whilst simultaneously keeping them up to speed as the story unfolds. That and the character development. None of the core or supporting group of characters is entirely predictable, and that’s due to what is written down on the page. However, without the effective performances delivered by the film’s cast, most notably Lee Sung-Min, the way the characters latch onto a viewer’s heart might not have landed so well. Altogether, THE 8TH NIGHT (제8일의 밤) is a strong contender for one of my favorite films of 2021.
THE 8TH NIGHT (제8일의 밤) is now available on Netflix.
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