The 8th Night is a supernatural action flick. If this confluence of genres appeals to you, there is a lot to like in this Netflix movie from South Korean writer-director Kim Tae-Hyung. He does not bring anything new to the table, but his film is generally restrained enough to deliver on its promise. The cracks of a debut feature do, however, show in its leaden pace and overreliance on plodding, often unnecessary, exposition.
The Diamond Sutra, according to the film, tells of a millennia-old battle against good and evil. A demon, seeking to open the gates of hell, is confronted by the Buddha and his disciples. The evil is defeated, its eyes separated. The eyes must be prevented from coming together, lest the evil be reborn and the gate to hell opened. The Black Eye is hidden in the East, hidden among the mountains of present-day South Korea. The Red Eye is hidden in the West, where the Buddha creates a vast desert to keep it hidden. At the start of the film, the Red Eye is found in an expedition along the India-Pakistan border. Anthropologist Kim Joon-cheol (Choi Jin-ho) wants to prove that the Diamond Sutra speaks the truth. When carbon dating shows the vessel carrying the eye cannot be 2,500 years old, the professor is disgraced. To prove that he is right, the professor performs a ritual to awaken the Red Eye. His success begins the dramatic action of the film.
What we need to know about the Red Eye is delivered via narration in the opening minutes of the film. It amounts to a race against time. The Red Eye will possess a series of victims over seven nights. On the eighth, during a Blood Moon, the Red Eye will possess the protector of the Black Eye. In so doing, the evil will be reunited. It is the task of an exorcist monk to prevent this from happening. The current protector of the Black Eye is Cheong-seok (Nam Da-reum). He is introduced 22 months into a vow of silence given to him by his mentor Ha-Jeong (Lee Eol). The mentor dies, giving his charge a task. He is to find Seohwa, the man who can prevent the evil from awakening. Seohwa is a former monk turned construction worker called Park Jin-su (Lee Sung-min). It is when these two characters are brought together that the film is most successful.
Cheong-seok and Jin-su make for an odd pairing. The former, given his vow of silence, can only communicate by writing on a notepad. When they go out for food, the pious monk will not touch the meat in his dish. Jin-su removes the offending beef, for which Cheong-seok is grateful. The monk soon inadvertently breaks his vow of silence to say thank you for an act of kindness. Released from his burden, their partnership takes on a more natural tenor. The film manages to find humour in the fish out of water nature of Cheong-seok’s experience, as in a scene in a fast-food burger joint where we see the young monk greedily eyeing a woman eating ice cream. The next shot is of Cheong-seok eating an ice cream cone with childlike delight.
Parallel to this is a police investigation led by Kim Ho-tae (Park Hae-joon). As the Red Eye, leaps across its “stepping stones,” it leaves behind a trail of gruesome corpses. We know too much about what is going on for these sequences to read as thrilling, but all the same we are presented with the sceptical detective trying to make sense of supernatural happenings.
These investigations do lead to some of the more memorable images, such as the Red Eye opening on the cheek of one of its victims. The special effects of these eyes, as well as the various ghostly apparitions, are used sparingly, making them all the more impactful. Any effect falls to scrutiny when used too often. If anything, director Tae-Young likely could have afforded to show us more. However, this restraint also gives itself over to the leaden pace of the proceedings. Too much unnecessary exposition and character background is given throughout the middle part of the film. While this certainly fleshes out the characters, the thematic pay-off is simply not convincing. When the finale of your film is a confrontation between an axe-wielding exorcist and a demon with several additional eyes on its face, I do not much care about the exorcist’s proverbial tragic background.
The 8th Night works best when it is allowed to be an action film. The mystery aspects do not sink in, as we already know too much. While there are some memorable spooky images, such as a ghostly figure appearing over the shoulder of a hunter, these are too few to generate horror out of the proceedings. What’s left is an odd-ball pairing facing off against ancient forces of evil intent only on opening the gates to hell. This is all the film needs to be. Leave redemption off to the side and enjoy this supernatural race against time.