The Wailing is a 2016 South Korean horror movie (English subtitles) directed by Na Hong-jin & starring Kwak Do-won.
He plays a policeman (Jong-goo) in a very secluded & quiet village in the mountains. Life there is very peaceful, so peaceful that when a set of murders takes place the authorities panic unsure of just what to do.
These murders are preempted by some sort of disease that causes a rash. Followed by a change in attitude & behaviour that sees the infected eventually turn violent. Once they’ve killed their intended targets they fall catatonic before dying.
Jong-goo, while investigating starts to hear stories of a mysterious Japanese man who has recently started living in the village. His arrival preceded the sickness but he is a reclusive man living high up in the mountains.
As fear spreads throughout the village, wild tales of the Japanese man spread. Tales of him having glowing red eyes, hunting animals naked in the woods & feasting on their flesh are doing the rounds.
Jong-goo, having dreamt of this man, decides to look further into the details surrounding his arrival. Meanwhile his young daughter, Hyo-jin begins to show symptoms. Symptoms very similar to those who have been infected previously.
A bright & out-going child, her behaviour becomes more aggressive & she is unwilling to listen to her parents. Jong-goo is unable to prove that the Japanese man has anything to do with the events. He agrees to let his mother in law call in the help of a shaman as she believes a demon is involved.
Just what is causing the mysterious disease and who is the strange girl that Jong-goo keeps seeing?
The Wailing is a film of many parts. Its attempt to tell many different stories & keep you guessing ends in a mostly pleasing result. At 150 minutes long it has a lot to say & the many narratives twist their way through a story that is effectively about good & evil.
Which brings me to the biggest problem with The Wailing.
In its desperate attempt to keep you off balance regarding just what is going on it creates red herring after red herring. They’re not cleverly done & the big reveal at the end is disappointing as it was something you would have suspected early on. It makes portions of the movie seem pointless in its attempt to throw you off the scent.
It also calls into question character motivation, in particular one that plays a prominent role in the latter half of the film.
The first quarter of the movie struggles with its identity as it has a number of comedic elements. This might have been to make the events that happen afterwards all the more horrific. However instead it just comes across as something that gets forgotten about.
All of that being said, The Wailing is a damn good movie with a fantastic cast. Kim Hwan-hee as Hyo-jin in particular is brilliant to watch. Her changing attitude towards her lovable father is harrowing to watch & she’s a character you want to see turn out OK.
As well as the stellar cast, The Wailing is the South Korean tourist board’s wet dream. The shots of the country are outstanding, utterly beautiful & making you wish you were there. It’s a gorgeous location. Well, aside from the disease currently ravaging the village.
What is a surprise is just how visceral looking it is. The violent & bloody moments look great with realistic looking gore.
While the main story might be lacking by time it reaches the finale, a lot of the sub-plots play out really well. The undercurrent of racism that exists towards the Japanese man is interesting & anyone that has lived in a small town/village will understand how gossip spreads.
The Wailing, for its faults, is still a vast improvement over the lazy shtick that Hollywood continues to throw out. Worth a watch, just be prepared to invest a fair amount of time into it.