| 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.
The Wailing is a stupendous and sustained piece of storytelling. It is loaded with frightful incidents and stuffed with mystifying characters. On top of that, it is genuinely terrifying as it preys on the goodness of ordinary people. God has seemingly excused Himself from the battleground as can be gleaned from a scene in which the church says it will not lift a finger to help. The story is compelling and riveting, and every twist, turn and outcome totally earned. There are plenty of bloody scenes for the gore-hounds but they are never ladled out to pump up a sagging plot. The plot never sags, not even for one instance.
Many of the scenes are shot in rain or at night, so the photography is textured and impressive, always staying in the small mountain village, that only has a couple of Western type streets. The film is suffused with motifs, religious overtones and thematically rich. Even an innocuous scene of a young woman throwing stones has biblical weight. The storytelling is powerful and the twists perfectly angled into the story. The Wailing practically roars through the final act delivering all manners of monstrosity and heartbreaking sadness with aplomb. The movie is long and rich, multilayered and satisfying. So prepare to be toyed, skewered, gutted and stabbed.
Despite a few scenes with some 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. Most of all the atmosphere of escalating horror that Na captures is impressively unsavoury.
Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser (2008) audaciously broke one of cinema’s golden rules to heartbreaking effect. His sophomore effort The Yellow Sea (2010) is a pulsating rush of blood and bone. Na Hong-jin has graduated to a whole new level with The Wailing, a sandwich of investigative procedural, humour, horror, supernatural, family drama, and near un-killable zombies. The Wailing is a bold departure (or throwback, depending on how you look at it) for Korean cinema in its heavy emphasis on the occult, a theme more associated in the country with the well-worn moralism of its ghost stories and the oft-parodied rituals of harlequin-esque shamans. At well over two and a half hours, The Wailing is a hefty movie, but with its potent mixture of procedural mystery, black comedy and a prevailing sense of dread, it commands attention masterfully for much of the duration.
There are some inconsistencies between the first and second act. The comedy becomes more slapstick and does not fit with the rest of the film. The characters become sometimes 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. This fortunately finds a good balance in the third act and smartly switches it up from the first act. It becomes intense and terrifying with a few moments of comedy to offset the horror. As everything starts to unfold, the audience gains a new appreciation of the rest of the film and starts to reinterpret certain scenes.
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. I walked in to this blind and it became one of those rare nights at the Cinema for me. What a wild and twisted experience.