THE WAILING (2016)
Director: Na Hong-jin
Genre: Supernatural horror
Run time: 2h 36m
Na Hong-jin’s supernatural horror charts superstition and evil in rural Korea as it builds to a chilling climax
The Wailing has several close-ups of character’s stunned faces as they attempted to process the madness and horror before them. It is likely a similar look will be smeared across the audience’s face by this film’s conclusion.
With a run time over two and a half hours, an hour north of what most horrors provide, you are taken on a journey of ever-increasing screw-turning tension.
The light-hearted cop-capers of the first act, give way to a second act focused on exorcism, before the final act is a whodunit cliff hanger centered instead on a who-is-the-demon mystery.
The film’s first part evokes Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder (2003) when we meet hapless a rural police officer to rival Bong’s Park Doo-man in the form of Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak).
A mysterious disease starts to spread among villagers, who enflame in rashes and burst into murderous hysteria, then stupor and finally death. Investigating the murders, Jong-goo meets a strange young woman called Moo-myeong (“no name in Korean”) who tells him about a Japanese stranger who recently arrived to live in a secluded house in the forest.
Enlisting a Japanese-speaking police colleague, Jong-goo investigate the stranger’s house while he is out, finding pictures and belongings of murdered residents, alongside a shoe belonging to Jong-goo daughter, Hyo-jin.
As Hyo-jin becomes increasingly ill and her symptoms match those of the deceased, Jong-goo returns to confront the stranger before enlisting a shaman to exorcise the perceived demon causing such mayhem in this provincial setting.
His daughter’s survival, the identity of the true demon and the motivations of the shaman he has enlisted all place a pressure value on the boiling keg of drama stewing in The Wailing.
The final 30 minutes of this intense narrative must rate alongside some of Korean cinemas best and that hefty runtime is forgotten such is the film’s power to captivate you.
It picks up on the storied theme of animosity between Japan and South Korea which has brewed since Japan’s 1910 to 1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula. A period marred by forced labour and brothels brimmed with Korean women.
Such specific history is irrelevant to the wider global fear of the foreign stranger refusing to integrate, with the film including the locals ganging together for an attempting lynching of their cross-border forest stranger.
It also lays open the superstition of spirits and demons, and the role of dedicated shamans to relieve us of these ills.
The exorcism scene is masterfully shot with a rapid drumming accompaniment then broken by a burst of rationality from Jong-goo as we are left to ponder the true realm of the evil before us.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) has long been the yard stick of modern Korean horror excellence, but in The Wailing Na Hong-jin has crafted a terror of prolonged measures within a highly developed story that surprises throughout.
The early sniggers of the film’s lighter-hearted opening seem a distance memory by the time
The Wailing is through with you.