If you’ve ever considered supernatural stories a little lame and passé in contemporary cinema direction, then perhaps you are yet to see South Korean director-Na Hong-jin’s ‘The Wailing’—an incredibly brilliant mystery thriller which succeeds in lacing horror with comedy and strikes deep emotional cords on the back of a seemingly over exploited theme.
Beyond the fact that the film ends on a vague note and lacks any sort of logical consistency, Na Hong-jin’s brilliance in storytelling takes charge of what would fairly be a predictable narrative, and cleverly box it in an unending suspense, twist and nerve-racking gore which doesn’t just keep the audience boldly shaking, but intensely glued.
Per modern expectations, a dive into the world of demons mostly would come off as an attack but Na Hong-jin steers far away from an assault, and rather explores the spiritual world, clashing the strength of opposing and not so well defined mystical units with a small village and a household serving as the unfortunate battle ground.
It’s mainly over two and half-hours of blood oozing from the nose and mouths of characters, subtly balanced with effortless comedy from the film’s lead- Sgt. Jeon Jong-gu (played by Kwak Do-won) and sometimes, his beloved and adorable daughter-Hyo-jin ( played by Kim Hwan-hee).
The horror takes off when Sgt. Jeon Jong-gu and his unit were called to a village house, where a man had brutishly stabbed his wife and children to death with blood all over the floor as much as on him—his creepy bloodshot eyes could not be missed, and his body was decorated with strange boils.
The obviously shocking family massacre soon became a rampant occurrence, with series of similar cruel killings turning the village into not just a wailing yard, but a screaming and a dangerous locale—with widespread panic on the back of rumours that a middle-aged Japanese man (played by Jun Kunimura) was the person spiritually behind the killings.
In fact, the suspicion wasn’t just rumour-based, a young woman-Moo-myeong (played by Chun Woo-hee) predicted an imminent doom to befall the village and linked it to him—and a yokel was adamant he also saw him strangely eating raw blooded meat.
Despite Sgt. Jeon Jong-gu’s own strange nightmares and a promise to his daughter he would protect her come what may because he’s a police man, it was when the hovering village demon landed in his household, causing his daughter to have seizures and reworked her complete personality that he became heavily emotionally involved, beyond the perimeters of his professional expectations.
For over an hour, audience are served with violent killings and chops of comedy with the only plausible suspect behind the cryptic killings and strange boils being the lone resident of a nearby forest, the Japanese man.
With Hyo-jin possessed by whatever that was in charge of the village and with many minutes of deaths running, the search for the havoc-causing spirit or the being behind the spiritual invocation begins in the minds of the audience, joining the on-going search on the screen.
After heightened fear and enough ferocious killings, a powerful shaman ( played by Hwang Jung-min) is introduced, who designs and kick-starts a long drumming and dancing as part of his traditional exorcism ritual to free Hyo-jin and her household from the spiritual bondage. The ritual was intense, bloody and convincing as capable of fetching the needed result.
But another unsuspecting twist followed—and it got even more gruesome when Sgt. Jeon Jong-gu assembled his own version of local Avengers to face their prime suspect with axe, shovel and all manner of ‘lethal home-used weapons.’
When Sgt. Jeon Jong-gu’s human efforts worked slightly and only for a minute when he thought it was finally over, he is later cornered in a thought of emptiness, filled with no sense of direction and confusion—with each of the 3 candidates of spiritual clouts persuasively claiming not to be the demon at work but the freedom fighter.
In the closing scenes, we are gifted with a conversation in a cave which seems to solve the long running gruesome puzzle but even that, the hired shaman and Moo-myeong do not seem complete innocent as they claim.
If nothing at all, the sort of unbroken attention and long-run of panic perfectly weaved with comedy which Na Hong-jin achieves with “The Wailing” on the back of a boring and unrealistic theme confirms her excellence.
(South Korea) A 20th Century Fox Korea (in Korea), Well Go USA (in U.S.), Metropolitan Filmexport (in France & Benelux) release of a 20th Century Fox Intl., Side Mirror production, in association with Ivanhoe Pictures. (International sales: Finecut, Seoul.) Produced by Suh Dong-hyun, Kim Ho-sung. Executive producers, Robert Friedland, John Penotti.
Directed, written by Na Hong-jin. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Hong Kyung-pyo; editor, Kim Sun-min; music, Jang Young-gyu, Dalpalan; production designer, Lee Hwo-kyung; costume designer, Chae Kyung-hwa; sound (5.1 SRD), supervising sound editor, Park Yong-ki; re-recording mixer, Kim Sin-yong; special effects director, Kim Kwang-soo; special effects, Extreme FX; visual effects supervisor, Cheong Jai-hoon; visual effects, Trust Studio; action directors, Yoo Sang-seob, Kwon Gui-duck; line producer, Lim Min-sub.
Kwak Do-won, Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee, Kim Hwan-hee, Jang So-yeon, Heo Jin. (Korean, Japanese dialogue).