UK Release Date: 30th January 2017
Runtime: 156 minutes
Director: Na Hong-jin
Writer: Na Hong-jin
Starring: Kwak Do-won, Kim Hwan-hee, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura, Chun Woo-hee
Synopsis: A police officer finds himself completely out of his depth when a bizarre series of seemingly supernatural murders plague his quiet village and his daughter begins to act very oddly.
South Korea has proven to be a breeding ground for exciting movies, from the likes of Oldboy to last year’s buzzy zombie horror Train to Busan. Last year, bizarre horror film The Wailing broke box office records in its native land and expanded all over the world via the festival circuit before securing a surprisingly wide release in this country. The film, which merges the world of police procedural films with pandemic horror, is a compelling, strange story that knows exactly how to keep its audience guessing right up until the endlessly creepy final reel.
Incompetent cop Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) constantly turns up late to work and is struggling to join the dots in a series of very mysterious murders that have suddenly plagued his quiet Korean village. People in the village claim that a strange, reclusive Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) living nearby may be responsible for the bizarre crimes but, when things take a supernatural turn, Jong-goo’s daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee) begins to act strangely. Jong-goo calls in a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) in an attempt to rid Hyo-jin of the dark presence that seems to be taking hold of her.
The Wailing is the kind of slow burning, oddball chiller that would never stand a chance if it were made in the American studio system. It’s a slowly unfurling tale of mystery that withholds information from the audience throughout and provides more red herrings than a library full of Agatha Christie novels. This is a film less worried about conjuring an enormous ‘a-ha!’ moment than it is with ensuring that the audience is thoroughly freaked out. Thanks to some perpetually rainy, grey landscapes and gritty direction from Na Hong-jin, that’s a challenge it is definitely capable of meeting.
The central performance, from Kwak Do-won, is very finely calibrated to walk the line between being a slightly goofy, comedic presence and being a believable entry point for the chaos and darkness of the drama. His sullen, slightly bizarre charisma is given an ideal counterpoint by the flamboyant Hwang Jung-min and Jun Kunimura is terrifying as a man who harbours a number of dark secrets. Kunimura’s performance does a stellar job of maintaining the enigma of the story, appearing sinister without ever crossing into the kind of hammy acting that could have easily robbed the film of its tension. The true star, though, is young Kim Hwan-hee, who recalls Linda Blair in The Exorcist with her ferocious work.
The Wailing could easily be written off as an overly serious, somewhat dour horror movie without big scares. However, it’s far more subtle than that. It’s a consistently spooky film that mines serious tension from its grim tone and slowly unfolding story, which is like Se7en meets The Exorcist. The compelling mish-mash of tones is used to challenge conventions and construct a narrative that could go in any number of directions right up until the final scene.
Na Hong-jin keeps his story moving with a series of terrifying set pieces, including a shamanic ritual that provides a rare splash of bombastic colour and noise in the midst of a film that otherwise knows how to use measured silence and the noises of nature. It’s a film that is about mood as much as story and that makes it a compelling horror film, even as it pushes two and a half hours in length. Naturally, given its box office success, an English language sequel is already in the works, but it’s tough to see how well The Wailing will transfer when it is shorn of its unusual, moody setting and the dark sensibility of Korean cinema.
Pop or Poop?
Na Hong-jin has marked himself out as a real directorial talent to watch with The Wailing, which is an enormously accomplished mystery story with a chilling supernatural twist.
Strong performances and the bizarre alienation of the secluded setting combine to create an epic thriller that has serious scares and terrific twists.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Wailing will be available on DVD from 30th January 2017 courtesy of Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.