South Korea is known as one of the very few countries in the world where most of big religions coexist peacefully, particularly Christianity and Buddhism.
These two are the focal point in Svaha: The Sixth Finger, a Netflix exclusive horror-mystery from South Korea. In short, the story revolves around three main plotlines: the first one concerns Pastor Park, whose job is to expose new religious group to Buddhists and Christians, in order to stop the potential growth of dangerous cults. We also follow police Captain Hwang, who’s investigating the murder case of a middle-schooler in a small village. The third plotline centres around two young men who commit crimes to, allegedly, prevent an evil force to come to life. Oh, there’s also a little girl who has a twin sister who’s locked up in the house where she lives with her grandparents, because they believe the twin sister is actually a demon-like creature that one day will bring evil forces on Earth.
All of these storylines have something in common: the Deer Mount cult, a religious group founded by a mysterious figure, the monk of light, who is apparently immortal.
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As you can probably tell from this introduction, Svaha has a very dense and complicated plot. Much like most South Korean films, the story is filled with characters, sub-plots and intricacies. I’m not going to lie, the overabundance of plot elements makes Svaha quite a challenging watch, it requires attention because as a viewer you need to focus on a set of characters and storylines that eventually will come together.
The best part of this movie is that, indeed, as the movie progresses these elements tie together beautifully, and the picture as a whole makes sense. Svaha is a very ambitious film, but it is rewarding if you’re willing to put effort at least during the first 45 minutes (of the two-hour-long runtime).
As I hinted at before, the plot constantly intertwines with religious references to Buddhism and Christianity, which can leave you a bit lost at parts if you’re not familiar with these beliefs and their pillars. At the same time, though, this is what makes Svaha such a unique, unconventional horror film.
Due to the density of the plot, Svaha is very fast-paced. Unlike many other Korean movies, which like to take their time to tell a story and develop characters, this one jumps from one character to the other, from one storyline to the other, like it’s nothing. The runtime feels much shorter than it actually is.
It definitely helps that the movie has quite a few intense, spooky scenes that will please most horror fans. Svaha does a great job combining the drama-like atmosphere with moments of pure horror and tension. There are also many moments of comedic relief that really works for two reason: the humour is very subtle and it doesn’t occur when the tension is high. In other words, the comedy in Svaha doesn’t detract from the horrifying scenes, instead it implements the characters and their realism.
In fact, the acting in the movie is very solid, with some stand-out performances. Despite the abundance of characters and the brisk pace, most of the protagonists are fleshed out enough for you to care about what happens to them.
Aside from some very interesting directorial choices in regard to camera-work and colour palette, Svaha isn’t really inventive in terms of technical features. Cinematography, sound-design and score are serviceable, but they don’t have the artistic, unique touch that most South Korean movies have made us used to. The editing, though, truly sucks: the spooky sequences, which can be very effective, are sometimes ruined by the overreliance on fast cuts that feel jarring rather than making these scenes scarier.
Speaking of flaws with the movie, Svaha utilises too much CGI, especially at the beginning. This isn’t a problem per se, but the effects look either quite bad… or really, really bad!
Finally, there are a couple of characters in the movie whose only function is to be there as plot devices to move the plot forward. They aren’t developed at all, they don’t have a real purpose other than being there when the plot needs to move from point A to point B.
Overall, Svaha is a very good movie that relies on its great script and well-crafted mystery. Whether you are familiar with the religious symbolism or not, the story is extremely interesting and quite unique. The presentation could’ve been more thought out in terms of technical aspects, but this doesn’t detract from the overall (high) value of the film. So, if the movie is on Netflix in your country, just check it out as soon as possible!
Svaha: The Sixth Finger 7/10
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