REVIEW: The Wailing
– By Kriss Pickering
When I first heard about South Korean horror film The Wailing, I have to be honest and admit I wasn’t expecting it to be my cup of tea. Boasting a run time of well over two hours, and filmed in (what I assume is) the Korean language with subtitles, I had the same feeling I had for the critically acclaimed [Rec] (which I couldn’t get in to either). But once I bobbed it in my DVD player and sat down to watch, I couldn’t believe how wrong I had been!
The Wailing opens on a Police officer, Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won). He has been sent to investigate a grisly murder in a quaint and quiet rural village. For reasons no one can comprehend, a (seemingly) normal family man has taken it upon himself to savagely slay his own wife. When the police arrive, they find him sitting on his front porch in a daze. Upon closer investigation, they find he is covered in strange boils.
Unfortunately for the police and the inhabitants of the village, that was only the start of the terror, as more and more people appear to come down with the mystery condition. In an attempt to rationalise what is happening, the authorities blame the outbreak on an addiction to a toxic mushroom. Jong-gu, however, isn’t happy with the explanation, and finds out that the incidents coincide with the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man (Jun Kunimura). When Jong-gu’s own daughter becomes the latest victim of the illness, he faces a race against time to unravel the mysteries and find a cure before she is lost forever…
The Wailing is the first feature film in 6 years to be written and directed by Hong-jin Na, and he’s made a cracking job of it. With the film running 156 minutes, it would have been easy for him to lose control of the pacing, but the way he starts slowly to establish the atmosphere and develop the characters before building to a crescendo is masterful. Na’s choice of location is terrific too. He chose to film on location in the mountainous and very rainy region of Goksong (this was also the film’s original title). The approach Na and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo took while making the project gives the landscape a real sense of forbidding and it actually appears to be hiding something (even in some of the more comedic moments).
Na has put together a small but talented and charismatic cast of characters to tell his narrative. Kwak Do-won puts in a fantastic turn as the sometimes out of his depth Jong-gu. Na has given the character loads of depth, which allows Jong-gu to portray the meekness in him, while maintaining the “leading man” air. Jung-min Hwang is the other actor that stands out.The rest of the cast are all solid, although none really stood out to me the way the leading man did.
As much as I enjoyed the film, I thought the script included too many unanswered questions. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it did spoil things a little for me. I think it may have been because I’m an English only speaker, and found it hard enough to immerse myself in the film as it is. But I’m sure that for Korean speakers the mysteries will add to their experience. The other thing that takes away from the overall quality of the movie is some of the comedy. There are times in the first act that it feels really out of place and breaks the tension that had been brilliantly built. Credit must go to Na though, as he quickly builds it back up after.
To sum things up, this film certainly isn’t going to be for everyone. I’ve recommended it to virtually every one of my friends, and at least half have turned it off quickly due to the subtitles, and of those that did watch through to the end thought it was either too long or they struggled to follow it. For the true horror fan though, it really should go on your “must watch” list!