Movie Review: The Wailing

So... late last month I was invited to a special screening of the movie The Wailing, a South Korean horror thriller film. As someone who has always had a love-hate relationship with horror movies, I hesitated for a bit before deciding to confront my fears, and boy was I glad I did. It was my first Korean horror movie (I've watched Hollywood and Thai and Singapore ones before) and I went without any expectations, but left feeling all sorts of creeps.
Set in a quiet little village in the mountains of South Korea, the movie begins when protagonist police officer Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) is summoned to the scene of a multiple homicide. When he arrives at the scene, he finds the killer (husband and father of the victims he slashed to death) hysterical on the porch of his house, his eyes bloodshot and his skin covered in strange rashes.
A series of similar killings continue over the next few days in the sleepy village, with the killers all experiencing similar symptoms. The media blames it on some kind of toxic mushrooms, while the locals believe it to be the fault of a Japanese man who recently started living in the woods on the outskirts of town. Insinuations start pouring in to the police station, and Jong-gu finds himself swamped with accusations, in particular one from a local hunter who saw a Japanese man in the mountains, nearly naked and his eyes glowing fiery red. The stories make their way into his sleep, which constantly blurs the line for the audience between his dream and reality.

Jong-gu's personal involvement in the spate of events arrives when his daughter, Hyo-jin, becomes sick with the same symptoms. There is increasingly widespread anxiety with trips to the hospital yielding no reasonable explanation for the symptoms. All the signs (seizures, overzealous appetites, rashes...) point to possession, prompting Jong-gu's mother to seek help from a shaman, Il-gwan.
For a conventional horror movie, this is probably an sufficient amount of characters (Jong-gu, daughter, Japanese man, shaman...) to play who's who game with already. Cues beautiful mysterious young woman, Moo-myeong. As Jong-gu watches over a crime-scene, she throws rocks at his feet, tells him about the Japanese man and seems to know a little more than she ought to. Her presence in the movie was an enigma up until towards the end of the movie, and to be honest, even after the credits started rolling, I could sense that most people in the cinema hasn't really laid a finger on her role yet.

The 156 minutes movie is rather long for a horror film, but at no point in time did I felt that the story was dragging its feet. There was no cheap thrills, but rather a concatenation of intricate (sometimes a little too complex) storylines that attempt to distort your rational thinking. More often than not I scared myself from trying too hard to figure out what exactly was happening.
The arresting landscape shots were beautiful and adds a much-deserved sense of tranquility to the movie, and I loved the elaborate Korean exorcism scenes. Unlike its Hollywood's counterparts, a Korean exorcism is all bells and whistles, with drums and music, and seemingly even dancing? It was eye-opening to say the least.
I left the cinema with my friend mostly perplexed by the plot. We thought over all storylines, bit by bit, and tried to make sense of the evil, but to no avail. The thing is, that's the kind of horror that scares me the most. The inexplicable kind.

This article was written by Ivan Lim





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