In this critically acclaimed and incredibly tense supernatural thriller, a foreigner's mysterious appearance in a quiet village causes suspicion among the locals - suspicion which quickly turns to hysteria, as the residents begin killing each other in brutal outbursts, seemingly without motive. As the hopelessly out-of-depth investigating officer watches his daughter fall under the same savage spell, he agrees to consult a shaman for answers - unknowingly escalating the situation.
Na’s third hit thriller
- The Wailing review by Alphaville
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Hong-Jin Na’s third film isn’t quite as thrilling as his first two (The Chaser, Yellow Sea) but he’s a director to watch. He begins his films in such an oblique way that you’re never quite sure what genre you’re watching, never mind what’s going on. Comedy? Detective story? Horror? The story soon focusses on defiantly non-Hollywood leasding man Do-Won Kwak, overweight and hopeless as a bewildered police officer. You’ll soon be rooting for him.
Once his daughter becomes ‘possessed’ the film develops an increasing sense of dread. Na wanted to make a thriller that ratchets up the tension without resorting to violence, but there are some wild and exciting scenes here, some of which are beautifully shot in rainstorms in the South Korean mountains.
Who’s the mysterious Japanese man who feeds on raw deer carcass in the woods? Who’s the beautiful young woman who watches him? Who’s the cool-dude shaman and his terrifying exorcisms? And is that a zombie with a rake in his head?
As usual with Na, there’s no Hollywood formula here to tell you what’s coming next. As tension grows, expect the unexpected. You’ll be happy to go along for the ride.
An utterly and truly terrifying experience, The Wailing will engrave the scary into your mind long after you’ll forget you even watched it in the first place. There is also something deeply sinister in Asian horrors not yet emulated among their North American counterparts: whether it’ll be an uncanny child, an ambivalent twist or just plain terror lurking from within – it just keeps the audience involved even after some of the characters are killed off. Well, The Wailing has all of that, and more.
For religious people yearning to be scared, this feature will work beyond anything they’ve ever witnessed before. From the opening credits, it becomes clear that director Hong-jin Na’s piece will feature stuff from the Bible not yet tackled by American contemporary cinema (attempts have been made by recent Australian surprise The Babadook). And not only plain symbolism: The Wailing draws its essence from religion (and some mythology among the way), but cares to explain everything by employing the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule most features nowadays tend to skip.
In this regard, The Wailing works very well and completes is objective to scare fully and successfully.
The film is gritty and contains a strong sense of urgency that, despite the jokingly unaware characters that become tragic toward the end, feels as believable as real life itself. Somewhere along the middle however its tonal balance changes for the implausible, but when you come to better think of it: is it really?
Imagine you’re an everyday, professional bloke who’s stuck in a haunted village that produces dire consequences for its residents every day or two. Now, imagine you’re just there to try and conduct a professional duty because the law-abiding citizen such as you doesn’t know any different. Then, seemingly out of nowhere: the supernatural hits and shifts the whole balance in the village toward chaos. What would you do?
One thing is sure: knowing human psychology, you’ll either go crazy, or you’ll start making rash decisions that, from an outsider’s perspective – would look funny as whole hell. Point is, this is what the slapstick part of The Wailing is trying to explain, and nothing more.
Another thing to keep in mind is, The Wailing clocks in at 2 hours and 35 minutes, and at times this could mean it’s just dragging for too long. But, who cares about runtime when everything falls into place in the movie’s third and final act?
The Wailing also features some of the best darn acting my eyes have ever seen. The actors’ faces are equally innocent and terrified and nail the film’s believability quite accurately. Atmosphere is amazing and music is as eerie as your creepy neighbor next door.
Ultimately, to fully grasp the ambiance The Wailing portrays, you have to be familiar with Korean mythology, culture and some pagan rites as practiced by indigenous Korean shamans.
Without knowing these prerequisites however, you’ll be equally terrified as soon as the credits roll.