The Wailing, 2016.
Directed and written by Hong-jin Na
Starring Do Wan Kwak, Kim Hwan-hee, Jung-min Hwang, Jun Kunimura, Woo-hee Chun.
A stranger arrives at a rural village in Korea and immediately unsettling events begin to take place. A policeman is drawn in to the mystery and must confront all sorts of demons in order to save his daughter – and himself.
The Wailing, an epic feast of weird supernatural mystery played out in the South Korean countryside, is ambitious to say the least. Crossing genres with flair and distinction, Hong-jin Na’s (The Yellow Sea, The Chaser) powerful creation succeeds in bringing a terrifying and emotive nightmare to the screen. As with all dreams, the details of plot and narrative are of less prominence than the intoxicating – and extremely odd – spell of dramatic tension and choreography. With an operatic sense of seemingly overplaying certain segments, the film projects a broad sweep of surreal hyper-reality, of a kind that brings out a real feeling of bewilderment and never really knowing what might happen next.
Focusing on a series of unexplained deaths that take place in his small rural town, police officer Jong-goo (Do Won-Kwak) is faced with the task of finding out just what is going on. People are becoming sick, seemingly poisoned, and after horrific illness commit wanton violence and murder. Being a small community, all eyes fall on mysterious Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura) whose appearance in the area exactly coincides with all the chaotic mayhem. When Jong’s young daughter is also affected by the illness, the need for a cure becomes ever more desperate. After all usual channels have been explored and found wanting, the only answer seems to lie in the supernatural and exorcism.
The Wailing is a brilliantly stylized film, and in many ways it is a beautiful mess; a jumble of ideas and expression formulated in wide brush strokes on a constantly shifting template that takes in body horror, slapstick comedy, psychological thriller and possession/exorcism elements. The occasionally jarring jumps between styles and themes are all part of the charm, and they do not tend to grate. In fact, to these eyes at least, the film has something in common with ancient myths, legends and plays, where one scene can operate to a distinctly different mood to the next.
Korean horror has enjoyed a great year so far with Train to Busan also showing off the delights of zombie gore to a high degree of distinction. The Wailing is a more curious beast than that offering, but no less enjoyable for that. The 156 minutes running time is a more obvious calling card of the epic, but the film never outstays its welcome. It is an eminently disquieting journey into the extreme.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.