In the small village Goksung in South Korea, police officer Jong-Goo investigates bizarre murders caused by a mysterious disease. His partner relays gossip that a Japanese stranger, who lives in a secluded house in the mountains, would be an evil spirit responsible for the illness. Jong-Goo decides to visit the stranger along with his partner and a young priest who speaks Japanese. They find an altar with a goat head, pictures on the walls of the infected people that died, and an attacking guard dog that prevents their departure until the stranger arrives. Jong-Goo finds one shoe of his beloved daughter, Hyo-jin, in the house of the stranger, and soon she becomes sick. His mother-in-law summons the shaman Il-gwang to save her granddaughter while a mysterious woman tells Jong-Goo that the stranger is responsible. Who might be the demon that is bringing sickness to Goksung?Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Wailing opens with a quote from the bible. It is easy to forget this fact while watching most of the film, but at a certain point it becomes clear the purpose that quote served. It is almost like a warning: "if you are a religious person, this film will scare every part of you." This is where The Wailing works so well. As a religious parable, it overcomes its lengthy running time and tonal imbalance, to deliver an often funny but truly terrifying film.
When a mysterious stranger moves to a small village in South Korea, the village becomes plagued by sickness. The police think a wild mushroom is to blame, but police officer Jong-goo thinks it may have something to do with the stranger. He meets a woman who gives him some information about this mysterious man, and slowly begins to fall down a rabbit hole that consumes his life. When his daughter starts to show signs of the sickness, it gets personal and he must figure out who to trust and who to avoid.
The director, Hong-jin Na, struggles to find a good tonal balance. At times pitch perfect and at other times all over the place, the tone struggles to stay consistent. For the first third of the film, it is primarily a funny movie with briefs bursts of depravity and violence. The comedy works well and I found myself laughing a number of times. Then when the horrific imagery would come up it was sudden and effective. There was a good balance here that gets lost in the second act. The comedy becomes more slapstick and does not fit with the rest of the film. The characters also become over-the-top and act in exaggerated ways very different from how they were introduced. This middle section also has some moments of unintentional humor. One example sees a man struck by lightening and another has the caller ID for a shaman come up on the phone as "Shaman".
Fortunately it finds a good balance again in the third act, but smartly switches it up from the first act. It becomes intense and terrifying with a few moments of comedy to offset the horror. And what a terrifying last act it is. As everything starts to unfold, the audience gains a new appreciation of the rest of the film and starts to reinterpret certain scenes. The only problem is that a few of these scenes only made sense once the film ended. Rather than feeling natural and fitting in as the story progressed, they required the ending to actually make sense.
At 2 hours and 36 minutes, the film is just too long. The middle portion of the film is where this could have been resolved. The shaman had too much screen time performing various rituals that ended up not being very important. There was also a 'zombie' scene that felt awkward and didn't fit in with the rest of the movie. It seemed as though they wanted to put a zombie in the film just because of their growing popularity. This scene also brings in a number of random characters that serve no purpose in the rest of the film.
Despite a few scenes with the previously mentioned overacting, the acting generally speaking is fantastic. The father tasked with solving whatever is happening to his daughter, conveys the terror and hatred he is building up with an intense persona he carries throughout the film. A priest in training who comes in to give advice on what the father should do is equally effective. He brings a concerned and innocent quality to the terror that will ultimately happen. But it is the young daughter who gets sick, that really shines. Channeling her inner Linda Blair, she emphatically delivers horrible, dirty lines that no child should ever say. Her performance is truly terrifying as you watch the hatred in her eyes slowly take over.
As the film comes to an end, the religious overtones become clearer. Locusts attack an individual. White and black are used to suggest character's true nature. And it is in these scenes where the film truly shines. By slowly unveiling the real nature of certain characters, the last 45 minutes of the movie will change your perspective on the whole thing. Every few minutes you will switch sides when trying to determine whom to trust and only when the big reveal comes do you realize how detailed the setup to get there was. The reveal really puts a twist on everything that led up to it and the film ultimately becomes about the horrors of putting your faith in the wrong people.
The Wailing (2016) Directed by: Hong-jin Na Screenplay by: Hong-jin Na Starring: Woo-hee, Jeong-min Hwang, So-yeon Jang, and Do Won Kwak Run Time: 2 hours 36 minutes
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