Review: The Wailing (2016) — An eerie, slow-burning puzzle

kwak do won the wailing still

곡성 The Wailing

Movie review

Directed and written by award-winner Na Hong-Jin (The Yellow Sea, The Chaser), The Wailing is a mystery horror thriller that follows a policeman named Jong-Goo who is forced to investigate the recent strange deaths in his village Gok Sung after his own daughter falls sick and begins to show similar symptoms. There’s no clue apart from the locals believing that these unusual, violent homicides are related to a Japanese stranger who arrived just before it all began. With the help of a rookie priest, a famous shaman and a friend, Jong-Goo must find the cause and a cure before his own daughter becomes a victim.

Like the 2003 classic Memories of Murder and other popular Korean titles, this beautifully shot film starts off slightly lighthearted with some humour from the protagonist and gradually intensifies with very unsettling atmosphere. At the beginning, the compelling storytelling feeds audiences with rumours and speculations about the unusual murders through the dialogues and visual flashbacks from the people that Jong-Goo meets. Up to that point, I wondered if it’s one of those films about why you should not to simply believe in rumours and jump into conclusions. Oh, how wrong I was. The film has way more to offer than that. But before realising that, the film kept me guessing while leading me to correctly predict some scenes.

the wailing still shaman exorcism ceremony

As things begin to clear up a little in the second act, the strong tension builds, gets supernaturally creepy and it’s a gripping ride from then on, effectively developed through smartly-paced narratives and a great performance by Kwak Do-Won (The Attorney, The Yellow Sea) as as Jong-Goo who goes from being this slobbish, dim-witted low-rank policeman (or “fucking idiot” as the other characters call him) who lives a simple day-by-day life to becoming a ragingly concerned father who’s desperate to save his daughter. If there’s anything that failed is it’s emotional engagement. I didn’t care enough about the well-being of his little daughter and family. Also, vague conversations during tense situations can be frustrating although it’s necessary for the film’s theme and objective.

With 2 hours and 36-minutes of running time, it’s a very long film indeed but it justifies with a major payoff at the end. Besides the epic climax, the film’s masterful editing and red herrings also produced an unexpected twist that hopefully leaves audiences surprised that they’ve got it all wrong and to make sense out of it all, they’d have to think back and connect the dots — like a puzzle that one could only solve after looking at the whole picture. It might help if you’re familiar with the bible and shamans. But it can also be open to other interpretations, triggering post-viewing discussions that can already be found online now — which are very, very interesting. It goes without saying that films like The Wailing are rare these days.

the wailing movie meme

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What I would’ve named the film: “Deliver Us from Korea”

Malaysia censorship: Nothing seemed to be censored, not even the F-bombs in the English subtitles, which is good!

Verdict: One of the best mystery horror thrillers in recent years.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

wailing movie poster malaysiaCountry / Language: South Korea / Korean
Korean Title: 곡성 Gok Sung

Genre: Mystery, suspense, thriller, horror
Running Time: 156 minutes
Director-writer: Na Hong-Jin
Cast: Kwak Do-Won, Hwang Jung-Min, Chun Woo-Hee

Malaysia Release Date: 13 October 2016
Rated: 18
Local Distributor: 20th Century Fox Malaysia
Production: Side Mirror, Fox International Production Korea

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