The 8th Night: A long, long night with few spooks and thrills
This latest Netflix horror film has all it takes to stand apart in the genre but fails miserably with its sluggish writing that gives no engagement
Often we find horror films missing out on a gripping narrative and losing themselves in their concerted efforts to inject freshness into template elements of the genre. Thankfully, The 8th Night is not one of those films.
Like most films, The 8th Night also takes an old fable, The Diamond Sutra, and weaves a story around it. Millennia ago, a supernatural entity tried to open the gates to hell to spread agony and anxiety on Earth. The Buddha appeared before the monster and tore apart its two eyes - the Red Eye, and the Black Eye - which were the two sources of its power. He hides one in the East and the other in the West. In the present world, an archaeologist discovers the Red Eye in a desert, and following some unfortunate events, it is let loose to wreak havoc. The Red Eye now has to find seven human hosts in seven days to attain the Black Eye and get its final form.
The people who are about to stop this from happening are: Kim Ho-tae (Park Hae-joon), a detective who inspects the murders, Cheong-seok (Nam Da-reum), a young disciple from a monastery, and Park Jin-soo (Lee Sung-min), a retired, disgraced exorcist.
Director: Kim Tae-hyoung
Cast: Nam Da-reum, Park Hae-joon, Lee Sung-min, Kim Yoo-jung
Streaming on: Netflix
The 8th Night is set up with an excruciatingly sluggish pace. The first few days out of the eight go by very quickly, and though there is a sense of rush and fear in how the events transpire, the terrible scene writing and blocking make it a mountainous task to move past the first act. The first six days in this film's world might be the longest six days in most worlds. It wouldn't be surprising if one gives up by the time the film begins to pick pace.
Another major reason for the lack of engagement is there are too many threads running simultaneously. There's a detailed detective police story, an intriguing monster-on-the-loose plot, and a personal journey of a disciple with a vow of silence. In retrospect, it seems like each of these subplots could easily be made into individual features. With the sluggish pace, and multiple layers, the film runs the risk of having bit off more than it could chew. Thankfully, audience with the requisite patience are rewarded by what follows in the last two acts.
Eventually, when all the storylines get streamlined, the writing does get convincing. The interpersonal dynamics, especially within a tense set-up like this, is definitely entertaining. Each of the characters has a personal conflict and the monster hunt to deal with. The most interesting of those is that of the exorcist Jin-soo, who carries the weight of thousands of souls he had banished in his life. He also has to lay his life at risk to keep the promise he made with the disciple Cheong-seok's master, Monk Ha-jung (Lee Eol). When we finally get to see the agony that he is cursed with, it shapes up like a layered poem about the curse of the human condition. In fact, in the bigger conflict, Jin-soo is the orchestrator of this bout with evil. The icing on the cake, however, is the addition of Kim Yoo-jung's character Ae-ran, which is the most surprising trick the film pulls out of its hat.
Although The 8th Night does have refreshing clarity and character arcs, it unfortunately doesn't bow out with an all-out spectacle — something that was wonderfully built up throughout the film. The final catharsis is so underwhelming that even regulation jump scares could have made things better. The pacing issues of the first act returns towards the end to add to the misery.
For all the creepy goosebump moments, splendid performances, speckless visuals, and flawless special effects, the writing just doesn't do justice. If only we possessed patience and endurance like that of the monks, The 8th Night might seem like a good investment of our time. If not, it is us who end up with two red eyes.