A good possession story can go a long way and a meaty mythology to go along with it, can push it even further. In the Netflix Original horror film The 8th Night, we see a life or death battle for humanity that takes place over the course of eight days. Rooted in Buddhist cosmology, this South Korean horror film swings for the fences and almost clears them.
In his feature film debut, director Kim Tae-Hyung crafts an intimate story of grief and trauma that has cosmic level stakes. The 8th Night opens with a story, that explains the myth of the Diamond Sutra, and “That Which Must Not Awaken.” 2,500 years ago, an evil and powerful being was locked in two caskets, a black eye, and a Red Eye. In order to keep the world safe from its power, the two must never be reconnected. But if they are released, the Red Eye will possess seven vulnerable human hosts, using them as stepping stones towards coming back into the world until the final one is reached: the virgin.
Centuries later, the Red Eye is awakened by a disgraced archeologist who sets off a series of bizarre murders which pulls Detective, Ho-tae (Park Hae-joon), into the mystery. From a faith perspective, an ex-monk, Jin-soo (Lee Sung-min), and a bright young monk, Cheong-seok (Nam Da-reum) who has been mostly protected from the world work together to stop the resurrection of the monster who is aiming to open the human realm to hell.
The 8th Night is doing the absolute most. The film embraces elements of noir detective storytelling, possession horror, and other supernatural horror elements. With two narratives happening at once, one from Jin-soo’s perspective and the other centered on Jin-soo and Cheong-seok there is a lot going on. While the two narratives are bound together, the film feels completely separate. And while there are moments where they seem to drift, Kim uses horror visuals in each one to pull them back in. An eye that appears where eyes aren’t supposed to be, the cracking of bones as a neck moves quickly, mummified bodies slumped over, all of these work together to craft a cohesive atmosphere that carries through every scene. The most chilling of which is a scene of a high schooler in an alleyway, a smile on her face, slowly revealing the A-horror visual aesthetics of possession.
That said, each of the film’s three acts seems to have its own climactic event. Just when you think a twist has revealed a grand element, the next act one-ups it. And while this is interesting pacing, it’s not one that holds to the end of the film. This is due in large part to the film’s finale taking on a new aesthetic as the stunts become bigger and the CG grander. While this makes the film seem disjointed, the ride to the conclusion is well worth the watch. But more importantly, the way expectations are constantly subverted keeps the audience on their toes. As with any mythological elements thousands of years after they happened, the rules that the Red Eye abides by are outlined yes, but in their barest forms. This allows for there to be twists and turns that expand the initial ideas presented.
However, the reason that The 8th Night is worth the watch is that its story is really about grief, pain, and the trauma we carry. Each of the characters has collided with trauma, whether personally or intervened in someone else’s. While the way the film confronts grief and trauma isn’t subtle, it is interesting how it uses those two elements to tie characters to each other. With so many elements going on at any given time, trauma is how characters save each other, find each other, and ultimately weigh each other down.
Overall, The 8th Night is a genre-blending horror film that aims to do a lot. While the runtime facilitates enough time to tie up all of the loose ends, the speed with which we move through the first 7 days is breakneck, which leaves to some uneven elements. That said, the visuals throughout the film are breathtaking. Each possession presents a different terror as do their interactions with the people they meet. With all of that, using The 8th Night to add some horror to your night is a good choice to make even if it’s a bit all over the place.
The 8th Night is available now, exclusively on Netflix.
The 8th Night
- Rating - 6.5/106.5/10
Using The 8th Night to add some horror to your night is a good choice to make even if it’s a bit all over the place.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.