Director Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing may suffer a bit from an identity crisis. If you are a movie that’s a healthy thing to have sometimes.
The small town of Goksung is troubled. A mysterious disease turns its victims into violent raving maniacs who murder the very own people they used to love. Sgt. Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) is on the case, picking up clues that everyone seem to drop around for just gossip. A lot of those point back to a foreigner, a stranger from Japan that seems to be plaguing the dreams of many, specially Jong-gu. As a cop, Jong-gu is considered inept but his dedication to the task escalates the moment that his daughter becomes a victim of the disease… which may very well be a curse.
Engaging all the way throughout, The Wailing is one of those rare movies (not so rare during Fantasia!) where there’s not a dull moment. The movie transitions between goofball humour to horror to really freaky horror in a pinch. The moment that the funny scenes give way to the sadness and the frustration of Jong-gu’s seeming inability to find the root behind the curse, you realize that we’re not headed for a sunny and bright finale. Instead, there’s a lot of darkness ahead as the movie keeps you guessing as to who is responsible, who’s on Jong-gu’s side and how can you tell them apart.
This is a very unforgiving film, in which you can recognize the small town characters from everyday life and then pulls out the rug from below your feet. In the end, was there any hope for salvation at all? Letting you go with all senses rattled, the movie never cares to explain its motivation. To paraphrase the shaman’s explanation, when you fish you never know what you’re going to catch.
Highs: Superb performances from the cast, specially Kwak Do-won as the concerned father and goofball policeman Jong-gu and young Kim Hwan-Yee as the possessed child. You will be enthralled with the story from beginning to end. The oddball comedy will throw you off into thinking there’s nothing to fear. There is.
Lows: Not all loose ends are tied. Every possibility seems to be explored as the culprit. If the ending aimed at being confusing, it does. There’s a bit of xenophobia as the villagers chase the Japanese stranger. It didn’t help that the subtitles kept referring to him as “the Jap” (probably to save space in the translation, but still!).
Recommended for fans of the genre, although I have to say even mainstream horror fans should consider watching it.
- Tuesday, July 19: The Lure (Poland).
- Wednesday, July 20: Lights Out (USA).
- Thursday, July 21: Harmony (Japan).
- Friday, July 22: Embers (USA) / Seoul Station (Japan).
That will do for now.