A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
Well, my #31DaysOfHorror are over, which means I’m back to reviewing… horror movies still. Though, mostly from this year… come to think of it, honestly, not much is going to change other than the tag is done so welcome back! Thanks for continuing to read my ravings and nonsense. We’re taking a trip back to South Korea, because Train To Busan has ignited a genuine interest in me and I just need more Korean cinema in my life. So, this time we’re talking about a movie you need to get your eyes on: The Wailing.
So, through October you heard me complain and complain about movies being “too long”, and you’ll probably be wondering why I don’t have that issue here. The answer is simple guys: pacing. The Wailing is 2 hours and 35 minutes long, and doesn’t feel it. The story is deep and complex, and it paces really well, kicking things off with the first bloody crime scene really early on in the film. It also clearly sets up what is happening, and carries that through without taking a tangent into brutal child abuse, One Missed Call…
This is one of those horror films that feels like a film first and a horror movie second. Much in the same way that The Exorcist does, if that helps to explain the reference. The story happens to be frightening and include paranormal elements, and it’s not the case of people trying to make a horror film, or trying to make it work for what sells now. This feels very much like the story that the writer (and director) wanted to tell, and it comes across in a significant way. Speaking of which, the writer and director here is Hong-jin Na, who also wrote and directed an excellent film called The Chaser and one I haven’t seen called The Yellow Sea. It’s clear from the signficant differences in these three films that Na is a filmmaker first, and a horror movie maker second.
I will say that I had to ask a friend of mine who is quite the expert on all things Asia for some context here. There is some immediate hostility towards a Japanese man who has come to town, and everyone seems more suspicious of him for being Japanese rather than a stranger. As it turns out, there is some serious hostility between Japan and Korea that amount to the commission of war crimes from Japan to Korea. There’s a lot of history to unpack there, which isn’t what this site is for, but knowing this tension exists there makes a story where a Japanese man is believed to be a ghost who is murdering or causing the deaths of a village of Koreans, it’s not hard to see the subtext there.
The Wailing really works as a crime thriller, and a horror movie. The mystery is engaging and the ‘scary’ parts of the film are really effective and intense. There’s a scene involving an exorcism(ish) ritual that is conducted outdoors in the daytime, and it still manages to be a very intense and overwhelming experience. The writing here is spot on, and Na has also pulled some really wonderful performances out of his actors.
Now, unfortunately this is another case of showing my ignorance when it comes to the actors and their other work. However, the movie does star Jun Kunimura who you may recognize as Boss Tanaka from Kill Bill. With that said, everyone does a really excellent job here, and I particularly enjoyed Do Won Kwak (The Man From Nowhere) as Jong-Goo. His character is really interesting and feels quite real. It’s easy to get used to all police officers being hard-boiled action heros, but Kwak’s character feels more grounded in reality. He is afraid, vulnerable, and impulsive throughout, and it makes for a great performance and a compelling character.
The one issue I had was the tone of this one, it can be kind of challenging to pin down exactly what kind of movie this wants to be. There are moments of a dark, gritty crime story, and others that seem to be outright comedy. A scene in particular in which Goo and his compatriots fight a zombie (?) goes on for long enough that it becomes absurd, and feels a little bit out of place. There are some other moments that feel like comedy, but the movie as a whole doesn’t fit into that. Perhaps it feels uncomfortable or disjointed because life is that way, and the story manages to feel very real all the way through.
The Wailing is a genuinely spectacular film in its scale, its execution, and its ability to make a nearly 3 hour movie fly by. I can’t recommend it enough, as long as your brain doesn’t shut off as soon as subtitles appear on the screen. A great one, and a contender for the best of the year for sure. Look forward to me checking out a lot more horror from South Korea, and other countries in general, they seem to have a handle on it.
MY RATING: ****