TL;DR – This is a film that starts of in this weird tonally mismatched place and then as we delve deep it reveals the strength on which it is developing.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
There are times when a surprise is really good and then there are times when you unknowingly walk into a situation that you never expected. Today we have a bit of the latter as we look at the Korean film Svaha. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, nor even what genre of film I was about to watch, I just thought it would be a good idea to catch up on some world cinema before I went to bed. Well, there are many things forthcoming in the world, but after this film, a good night’s sleep is not one of them. With that in mind, to put off going to sleep, even though it is 6 degrees in Brisbane tonight, and hold off the nightmares for an hour or two, I’m instead going to write this review.
So to set the scene, we open in a small farming town in 1999 where a woman has given birth to twin girls. However, one of them is a monster, and the doctor doesn’t think it will last the night. Soon both Geum-hwa’s (Lee Jae-in) parents are dead but her sister did not die, she lives on hidden by the family not even taught how to speak. In the present day, Pastor Park (Lee Jung-jae) is given a lecture at a local theological college. Park is an expert on new religious movements and cults in particular. He is looking to make sure that they don’t become a danger as they have been in other countries. However, it feels like he is more drawn to scandal to make a quick buck than by any real spiritual connection. One of the many groups he is monitoring is a small Buddhist-adjacent organisation who has a symbol of a deer on their buildings. But his convictions are tested when he starts digging deeper and the bodies start piling up.
of the many things I found really interesting about this film is its use of religious
themes and iconography. Park is part of a Christian organisation but he is
branching out into Buddhist groups to make more money. But there is this
interplay between the different scriptures and their influences which has a
direct impact on the story. As someone with a theology background, I found a
lot of the references to cults, cross-religious themes, and the effects of the
occult to be really interesting if a bit dense at times.
As I mentioned I didn’t really know what to expect with this film going in, but the moment a child’s hand is found cased in cement you have a pretty good idea as to what they are going to be dealing with. This is a film that does not hold back on the creepy factor, with some imagery that I think will be difficult to shake from my head anytime soon, especially some of the scenes involving hanging early in the film. But of course, as is often the case the most terrifying thing in this film is people and you see just what people are willing to do to each other and the impacts that has on their own wellbeing.
area in the film that did have me perplexed for a while is the desperate swings
in tone. While I have tried to see more of Korean Cinema over the last couple
of years, I am by no means an expert on the style used in the films. So I expected
that this wild shifts in tone were a cultural language that I was just missing.
Part of this was true I think, but as the film went on it was clear that it was
using the tone swings as a way of showing character progression, especially for
Park. It is here where the film excelled for me because Park started off as a
bit of a charlatan, someone chasing money and fame, but as we go on we see that
he is not this one-dimensional caricature. Indeed he has a lot of depth based
on his own experiences with religion and his spiritual walk.
From a production point of view, I did like that the film came out swinging with it very particular style right from the first scene. One of the big impacts on the mood of the film is the music that is at times right in your face ensuing subtlety for boldness. There are a lot of drums used to create this pulsating feeling at times, like a heart beating. A lot of the film happens to occur at night, and they use careful lighting to make the things you need to see pop out and those that should be hidden stay just out of view. All of this really helps the story once it gets going and you start to see how all the moving pieces fit together.
In the end, do we recommend Svaha: The Sixth Finger? Well firstly, we do not recommend watching it just before you are about to go to bed. However, in general, I think this is a film that will be very subjective. There were times when I didn’t think I would like it, and times that I would have liked to dive my head on the covers of my bead. If you don’t like horror at all then this is not the film for you. But if you are a fan of Korean Cinema, or films that deal with the occult, or indeed horror in general then I think this is one to check out.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Svaha: The Sixth Finger
Directed by – Jang Jae-hyun
Written by – Jang Jae-hyun
Music by – Kim Tae-seong
Cinematography by – Kim Tae-soo
Edited by – Jeong Byeong-jin
Production/Distribution Companies – Filmmaker R & K, filmK, CJ Entertainment & Netflix.
Starring – Lee Jung-jae, Park Jung-min, Lee Jae-in, Jung Jin-young, Lee David, Jin Seon-kyu, Ji Seung-hyun, Min Tanaka, Cha Sun-bae, Hwang Jung-min, Lee Hang-na, Jung Dong-hwan, Moon Chang-gil, Lee Joo-sil, Cha Rae-hyung, Oh Yoon-hong, Kim Hong-pa, Kim Geum-soon, Park Ji-hwan, Kim So-sook, Kwon Gwi-bin & Moon Sook
Rating – Australia: MA15+