Fear from things that go bump in the night can be negated by a lack of imagination. A repulsion to the macabre may cancel out the spooky or ghastly.
But nothing hits home harder or longer than the crushing weight of group hysteria. The Wailing is a 2016 South Korean ‘horror’ film that contains each and every one of these elements, and then some.
Reading up on The Wailing reveals near universal acclaim at the time of release. This is always a headache for writing a review where your own impression of a movie is skittish.
Blending a combination of genre approaches into a 2h 56min collective, The Wailing takes you down a path of ever decreasing circles until settling on an ambiguous lunge of an ending.
What Is The Wailing About?
A series of bizarre incidents shake the small Korean village of Gokseong. Ordinary people, struck by some mysterious affliction, animalistically attack and slaughter their families.
Whispered hearsay points the finger at the recently arrived and reclusive Japanese stranger, who lives secluded out in the woods.
What begins as an investigation by Officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) soon gets caught in a mudslide of factors.
With the aid of a Japanese speaking Christian Deacon (Kim Do-yoon), Jong-goo’s initial meeting with the man does not go well.
Cue creepy house adorned with seemingly stolen items from village members, and a shrine covered in photos.
It’s also not helped that people swear they saw him with glowing eyes and eating raw meat in the woods.
The Wailing Official Trailer
Is The Wailing Worth watching?
The Wailing ratchets up the pressure slowly, like a torture rack. Acclaimed writer / director Na Hong-jin swaps out each section’s threat for another, leaving it a little difficult to keep track of the various moving parts.
A light-hearted beginning gives way to the aftermath of zombie-like attacks, which swaps out for serial killer potency, which morphs into mob rule mentality, which becomes demonic possession, etc…
As such The Wailing has a host of effective scenes in isolation. Even if the narrative as a whole unspools away from you, as it did from me, then there are moments to grab on to.
Nods to Korean folklore ‘hungry ghosts’ are chillingly deployed as a sweet little girl (masterfully played by Kim Hwan-hee) succumbs to profanity, violence, and gluttony.
Similarly, Jun Kunimura (Shin Godzilla) delivers an ambiguous performance as the Japanese stranger whose motivations remain unclear, arguably even after the credits role.
Taken along with an effectively disturbing exorcism scene – edited to extract every ounce of discomfort – and combined with a haunting figure of an unknown woman watching events unfold, The Wailing never lets up on layering on more and more unease. But does that pressure get released?
I try to not put too much of the first person in my reviews. Obviously what I write is my opinion, but a review littered with talk about *me* is not very helpful to *you*, the reader.
However, I have to confess that when the last scene of The Wailing died away I had to turn to the internet for an explanation, and that even after reading ‘what it was all about’ I struggled to match that up with what I had seen. You may not have that problem, but I certainly did.
The Wailing is arguably at its scariest when dealing with the very human fear of outsiders. Little is more inescapable than the weight of collective action.
Societal progression is like Sisyphus pushing his burdensome boulder up an unending hill; relax for a second and you could be crushed as it rolls back.
The movie incorporates so many elements that it creates an oppressive, if unfocused, malaise of disquiet.
Press play and see for yourself but, please, let me know what it was all about in the comments, would you?
Words by Mike Record
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