The Wailing (aka Goksung)

Posted: June 13, 2016 in Foreign, Horror, Reviews, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , ,

The WailingThe Wailing is a film that works – almost in spite of itself. It plays footsie with several genre conventions, while outright flouting others. It’s a horror movie that runs for 156 minutes. It’s a police procedural with an overweight, adulterous barely competent cop on the periphery of the investigation. One moment, The Wailing is about as subtle as a rake stuck in the head of a zombie (an actual image from the movie), and the next, it is as enigmatic as the mysteries of the world’s religions. It’s a Hitchcock mystery. No, it’s a gruesome hunt for a serial killer. Wait, it’s a biblical allegory.

You could spend the entire post film discussion arguing about the proper categorization for this latest offering from director/screenwriter Na Hong-jin, and not even have time remaining for a discussion of what the movie’s epigram from the Book of Luke means when it is uttered by a character in the denouement. The Wailing does keep you riveted until the end, trying to decipher what has happened, what is happening, and what the hell is about to happen. What is remarkable is that Hong-jin operates at his own pace and according to his own rules, and he rewards the audience for their patience. The movie generated considerable buzz during its screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and select filmgoers in the U.S. were fortunate to have a chance to see it in limited release less than a month later.

The film is set in a mountainous Korean village called Goksung – think of it as the Asian Appalachia. Life is hardscrabble and centered around the clan. One imagines a cop’s life to center around the three D’s: drunk, disorderly, and domestic violence. But something much worse is happening in Goksung  – the inhabitants are going mad and inflicting horrific violence on one another without specific motive. Is it mushroom poisoning or could it be the doings of the Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who lives alone in the woods? The crazy, young woman (Chun Woo-hee) who throws rocks at the investigators and mocks them with aphorisms may be the key to solving the crime, the culprit herself, or simply an obstacle to understanding.

Sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) lends a hand to the investigation on the rare occasions when he’s not late for work or hiding under his desk, but the case turns personal when his daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee) develops a bad case of potty mouth and the skin rash from Hell – literally. Jong-gu desperately searches for the answers to the crimes in the hope that it will also save his daughter. Ultimately, it comes down to a single question: can he recognize the face of evil?

The cast of The Wailing is superb. While Do-won does have the unfortunate tendency to slide into histrionics, Hwan-hee is a remarkable child actress showing restrained glee as a possessed pre-adolescent. Kunimara as the mysterious man in the woods is alternatively feral and dignified, with an ever-present sense of menace. The film also succeeds, in large part, due to the remarkable sets and filming locations, the role of the weather in several key scenes, and the sterling cinematography in a variety of conditions. Be warned – The Wailing is not for general audiences, but it is a remarkable treat from Korea for genre fans.

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