ⓘ The Wailing (film)
The Wailing is a 2016 South Korean horror film directed by Na Hong-jin and starring Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee. The film centers on a policeman who investigates a series of mysterious killings and illnesses in a remote Korean hamlet called Gokseong in order to save his daughter. The film was both a commercial and critical success.
A Japanese man has recently arrived at Gokseong, a small rural village in the mountains of South Korea, living in a secluded house in the forest.
Police officer Jong-goo, who is investigating violent murderous outbreaks, meets a mysterious young woman called Moo-myeong" no name” in Korean, who tells him about the Japanese stranger, and later disappears. A local hunter tells Jong-goo that he saw the near-naked stranger eating a deer, with glowing red eyes. Jong-goo is unsettled, as he has had dreams about this stranger, which the hunter had described to him. He enlists the help of another police officer, and a Japanese-speaking deacon to serve as an interpreter, and they investigate the strangers house while he is away. The other police officer finds pictures of the murdered residents and their belongings. He is too shocked to say anything to the others. The strangers guard dog, a large black Cane Corso, attacks the deacon and Jong-goo. The stranger arrives and pacifies the dog, and the three men leave.
The police officer tells Jong-goo of what he saw, and hands over a shoe which belongs to Jong-goos bedridden daughter, Hyo-jin. Soon, Hyo-jin becomes sick and displays similar symptoms as other infected villagers. Jong-goo returns to the stranger’s house with the deacon, but finds that the pictures and evidence have been burned. Infuriated, he destroys and burns the strangers worship room and kills the dog when it attacks him, ordering the stranger to leave the village. Distraught about Hyo-jins condition, Jong-goos mother-in-law seeks help from a shaman, Il-gwang. As Il-gwang performs a ritual to exorcise the demon, the stranger performs a ritual in his house simultaneously. Jong-goo finds his daughter screaming in pain and interrupts the ritual, taking her to a hospital instead.
The following day, he gathers his friends to hunt down the stranger, believing that the stranger is responsible for the disease and murders. Jong-goo and his friends go after the stranger, and are attacked by another infected villager, the hunter who told Jong-goo about the strangers frightening behavior. After a chase, they eventually end up hitting the stranger with their vehicle. They dispose of his body as Moo-myeong watches from the hills. When Jong-goo returns home, he finds that Hyo-jins condition has seemingly improved. The TV news says that there is a lethal mushroom tonic causing hallucinations and mental issues in the region. Il-gwang suspects they killed the wrong person; he later encounters Moo-myeong, and starts vomiting blood. He calls Jong-goo, telling him that Moo-myeong is the real demon.
Jong-goo finds Moo-myeong near his house. She requests Jong-goo to believe her, telling him she had set a trap for the demon, but the trap will not work if Jong-goo goes back to his house. Il-gwang calls Jong-goo and tells him not to believe Moo-myeong, while she in turn tells him Il-gwang is actually in league with the real demon. Confused and hesitant, Jong-goo eventually leaves to save his family, but Moo-myeong grabs him, her skin turning a ghostly white as he notices that she is wearing the personal items of some of the victims. He pulls himself away, and as he crosses his homes threshold, the floral trap withers.
Meanwhile, the deacon has returned to the strangers house in search for answers. He encounters the still-alive stranger in a cave. After being photographed by the stranger, the shocked deacon witnesses the stranger changing from his human form into a demon. Back at his house, Jong-goo arrives to find that Hyo-jin has murdered their family in hysterical tantrum. He calls out to her. She falls into a stupor. Il-gwang arrives at Jong-goos house and takes photographs of the family. While returning to his car, he unintentionally drops a box filled with photos of the other victims.
As Jong-goo lies dying in his home, he sees visions of happier times with his daughter and begin to smile, assures her as he will protect her.
The Wailing was released in South Korea on May 12, 2016. The film was shown in the Out of Competition section at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, and was released in the United States on May 27.
2.1. Release Critical response
The Wailing received widespread critical acclaim. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 99% and an average rating of 7.92/10, based on 79 critical reviews. The sites critics consensus reads, The Wailing delivers an atmospheric, cleverly constructed mystery whose supernatural thrills more than justify its imposing length." On review aggregator website Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 81 out of 100 based on 19 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Jada Yuan of Vulture.com described the film as "operating on a level that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative". Anton Bitel of Little White Lies commented "By turns funny and despairing, this village noir brings the horror of uncertainty." Leah Pickett of Chicago Reader stated "the film justifies its epic length, meshing ancient east Asian mythology and rituals village gods, exorcisms by shamans with more recognizable horror tropes in a way that feels novel and unpredictable. The actors are uniformly strong." Phil Hoad of The Guardian wrote "The layers of dissembling and self-dissembling pile up so thickly that not only does Na evidently touch on something integral about the nature of evil, but actually seems to be in the process of summoning it before your eyes." Financial Times s Nigel Andrews wrote "Very crazy, very Korean, very long: 156 minutes of murder, diabolism, exorcism and things that go bump by day and night". Clark Collins of Entertainment Weekly gave the film B+ grade, stating "Despite its epic length, The Wailing never bores as Na slathers his tale with generous supplies of atmosphere and awfulness". Jason Bechervaise of Screen Daily noted The Wailing is initially set up as a thriller and the supernatural setting also helps deliver moments akin to a horror feature, particularly when a strange woman Chun Woo-hee first appears. But the film’s gradual progression into something more sinister puts a different spin on Na’s masterful use of pacing". Jacob Hall of /Film commented The Wailing as it exists would involve burning the very structure of a traditional western movie to the ground. It’s why the movie is so great and it’s also why a remake seems so strange".
Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter added "As dark and pessimistic as the rest of South Korean thrill-master Na Hong Jin’s work, The Wailing Goksung, a.k.a. The Strangers in France is long and involving, permeated by a tense, sickening sense of foreboding, yet finally registers on a slightly lower key than the director’s acclaimed genre films The Chaser 2008 and The Yellow Sea 2010, both of which also got their start in Cannes." Maggie Lee of Variety noted "There’s nothing scarier than not knowing what you should be scared of." The Wailing” erupts with a string of gruesome deaths in an insular village, but the investigation unleashes a greater terror - that of the paranoid imagination." David Ehrlich of IndieWire stated " The Wailing” boasts all the tenets and tropes of a traditional horror movie, but it doesn’t bend them to the same, stifling ends that define Hollywood’s recent contributions to the genre. The film doesn’t use sound to telegraph its frights a mile away, nor does it build its scenes around a single cheap thrill. On the contrary, this is horror filmmaking that’s designed to work on you like a virus, slowly incapacitating your defenses so it can build up and do some real damage. There’s a looseness here that’s missing from mainstream American horror, a sense that absolutely anything can happen next and always does." Aja Romano of Vox gave the film four points out of five, stating "The Wailing is the most unsettling Korean horror film in years, but it offers more chills than answers."
Lincoln Michel of GQ wrote "At just over two-and-a-half-hours long, The Wailing definitely takes its time, yet you could never describe it as a slow burn. This is a horror film that jumbles up ghosts, zombies, body horror, Eastern exorcism, Christian mythology, demonic curses, creepy children, and a lot more into one sustained narrative. This description may make it sound like the movie is a messy mash-up, but director Na Hong-jin ties it all together seamlessly. Instead of being a mess, the combination of tropes makes each individual one feel both fresh and terrifying." James Hadfield of The Japan Times gave the movie four stars out of five, writing " The Wailing” veers from police drama to ghost story to zombie horror and back again, while tossing a generous helping of shamanism and Christian symbolism into the mix. At times, it resembles" The Exorcist” transplanted to the South Korean countryside; at others, it’s closer in tone to" Memories of Murder,” Bong Joon-ho’s masterful, slow-burning serial-killer drama".