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What to Watch After "Revenant"

Revenant casts big stars Kim Tae-ri and Oh Jung-se in a stylish ghost story that serves up all the classic scares with a side of heavy folklore and a compelling mystery that keeps everyone guessing until the finale.


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The Plot (with mild spoilers)

A revenant (from the Old French word revenir, meaning “to come back”) is someone or something that has returned.
In folklore, a revenant is a word used to describe an evil spirit that haunts or torments the living, often out of an extreme desire for justice or vengeance.

*Trigger Warning: This show depicts suicide, self-harm, violence, and some gore.


In Disney+’s 12-episode horror K-drama, the revenant is the ghost of a young girl (a cheonyeo gwisin) who was violently killed half a century ago for the most horrific of reasons. Now that it has returned to modern-day Seoul, it drives people to commit inexplicable suicides.


Eventually, this long-haired ghost finds a home in the body of Gu San-young (Kim Tae-ri), an ordinary worker who struggles to make ends meet. Once possessed, San-young flits in and out of consciousness and commits heinous things she has no memory of. This terrifies the poor girl so much that she immediately seeks help from Yeom Hae-sang (Oh Jung-se), an eccentric folklore professor who can see ghosts.


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She's baaaaack.

However, the pair soon learns that getting rid of the vengeful ghost will be much harder than they think. Their case is further complicated by the knowledge that San-young’s estranged father (Jin Suk-kyu), a disgraced folklore professor himself, was also investigating the ghost before he died.


As the body count around them rises, the gruesome secrets of the revenant slowly begin to unravel. Later, even the skeptical detective Lee Hong-sae (Hong Kyung) finds himself entangled in their case and begins to suspect that there is truth to their supernatural claims.


Now the trio has to locate and destroy the artifacts that created such a vengeful ghost while dodging the deadly traps it has laid out for them. But as the revenant's power and rage grow by the day, they wonder if they will ever free San-young’s soul in time.


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The professor and the possessed

Our Review


While much of Revenant is pretty standard East Asian horror fare (there's a long-haired ghost, some ghastly faces in the windows, taboo ceremonies, and some pretty violent ends), it still works primarily because the show both leads and swerves away from the familiar horror tropes and twists. While the ghost story remains central, Revenant is also a maze filled with robust folklore, "eat the rich" commentary, false memories, and family drama taken to enjoyably dark directions.


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Kim Tae-ri in fine form as both the revenant and an ordinary part-timer

To its credit, Revenant refuses to offer long and predictable expositions. Instead, it gambles on playing it fast and smart, making it a challenging watch that demands the viewer’s full attention and time. When the gruesome details surrounding the revenant's death are revealed, one would naturally think it would pile on the blood and gore to play into the viewers’ shock. But Revenant insists on restraint, artfulness, and logic throughout the show, making it decidedly a bit more cerebral than the usual ghastly fare.


Writer Kim Eun-hee, who has delved deep into zombie lore for Kingdom, shows she knows her horror and what makes the genre work. Although the pacing can get dry and clunky in certain moments, the show does not make room for cheesy speeches, too-obvious jump scares, or convenient excuses that plague a lot of other ghost K-dramas. We even detect a homage to Shirley Jackson's famous short story The Lottery, and even a bit of Ursula Le Guin's classic The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.


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Who you gonna call?

Kim Tae-ri (Twenty-five, Twenty-one) is incredible to watch as she subtly shifts her character between her ordinary self and her possessed version. The fact that viewers can tell when she is possessed or not without the use of loud cues is a testament to how skillful she is as an actress and how in command she is of her physicality. The veteran character Oh Jung-se is simply excellent as the stalwart professor Yeom Hae-sang, and effortlessly hits the dramatic notes with admirable restraint.


Hong Kyung (Weak Hero Class 1) as the sharp detective compliments the other two very nicely, and his performance as a rational skeptic is a nice foil to all the supernatural leaps of faith in the show. The subtle chemistry he shares with Tae-ri is sweet but -- true to writer Kim’s style -- shall forever remain nothing more (Jirisan, anyone?).


These three actors may have found fame and recognition in more mainstream shows, but the fact that they have the taste and talent for darker fare is good news for K-horror fans everywhere.


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The doorway to a sinister world

Cast excellence aside (Kim Won-hae, Kim Hae-sook, and Park Ji-young also turned in solid performances in their critical supporting roles), there is no way one can ignore the fantastic intangibles this show has in spades. The sharp and gorgeous cinematography keeps the series visually appealing, while the beautiful sets (check out those old hanok home interiors) are so lush that they become their own character. With horror focusing so much on gore and outlandish violence these days, aesthetically-pleasing horror shows have become harder to come by. But Revenant reminds us that it can be done, and done well.



Overall, Revenant succeeds because it pays homage to horror classics, while also forging forward and contributing its own creative twist to the usual ghost story. If the show's high ratings are any indication, Revenant has satisfied horror fans, as well as attracted a whole new audience that usually avoids horror. But this shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, Writer Kim has done it before – she’s gotten non-horror viewers to binge on Kingdom – but this time, she’s done it for ghosts. It makes one beam in anticipation as to what other horror genres she’ll explore and write about next.



If you liked "Revenant" and need more of that East Asian horror kick, check out our other recommendations:


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Junji Ito’s Maniac: Tales of the Macabre (animation, 2022)

Netflix

Netflix animates twenty stories to introduce Junji Ito’s incredible range as a storyteller and horror machine. Our spoiler-free review here.



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Incantation (movie, 2022)

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Terrifying found-footage videos, bloody possessions, incessant hauntings, and a desperate mother all come together to make Incantation Taiwan’s highest-grossing film opening of 2022. Directed by Kevin Ko, the movie brings back the mockumentary style combined with found footage to piece together a puzzle that can solve the haunting of someone’s daughter. Combining modern CCTV videos with classic jump scares, Ko creates an experience that will appeal to fans of Asian horror classics such as “Ju-on,” and “Shutter.” Read about it here.



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The Guest (K-drama, 2018)

Netflix

Kdrama reached fantastic horror heights with OCN's terrifying exorcism-fest, The Guest.

A centuries-old evil spirit threatens to unleash havoc upon the world again, bringing together an unlikely trio of heroes - a reluctant psychic, a callous priest, and a distrustful detective. The only problem is, each of them has their own deep-seated trauma and connections to the demonic force now only known as "Son."




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Gannibal (J-drama, 2022)

Disney+

Adapted from the eponymous manga, Gannibal is an underrated 7-episode Japanese horror series set in a remote village. The show follows city police officer Daigo Agawa, who relocates to the picturesque countryside with his family in order to recover from a traumatic event back in Tokyo. However, the seemingly idyllic setting masks a far more sinister reality, and it would seem that Daigo isn't going to rest any time soon. The clue to his torment is in the show’s strangely spelled name.



connect kdrama, jung haein

Connect (K-drama, 2022)

Disney+

Jung Hae-in, in a departure from his romantic role, plays Ha Dong-soo, whose eye is stolen. He later discovers that his eye has been transplanted into a serial killer (Go Kyung-pyo). This creates a strange connection allows Dong-soo to see every grisly crime that the killer does. Now it’s up to him to track the latter down and stop him from claiming more victims. Japanese horror maestro Takashi Miike directs this show.



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Sell Your Haunted House (K-drama, 2020)

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Real estate is complicated enough as it is, but it gets even harder when you add stubborn spirits who refuse to leave their homes. Now it's up to Daebak Realty to free these poor, unfortunate souls. The owner and mudang (shaman) in charge, Hong Ji-ah (Jang Na-ra, The Last Empress) continues to send unrested spirits to the afterlife in her quest to give the same reprieve to the unrested spirit of her mother. To do so, she must find a strong psychic to help her. Enter conman Oh In-beom (CNBLUE's Jung Yong-hwa, The Package), who makes his living by pretending to be a paranormal detective and scientist. Read our review here.



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