About twenty minutes into this horror film, I was really surprised to be laughing. The Wailing starts out with slapstick comedy and buddy cop humour. Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) bumbles his way through a murder investigation while providing for his family. He’s a hilariously rubbish cop, but a likeable guy.
Being Mr Nice Guy won’t help him solve the case though, especially since the crime in question isn’t a one-off. Other brutal murders start happening all over town, with each killer showing the same mysterious skin condition.
This genre mash-up slowly shifts into a gory horror-thriller, revealing a complex story of exorcism rituals and supernatural forces. If there’s one thing I can point about The Wailing is that it rewrites the rulebook of how a film should be. The director draws you into the mystery, but he keeps the tone off-balance for the first hour, before driving us head first into dread and nastiness. There’s no Hollywood jump scares, just pure old-school style horror and it works – because it’s genuinely creepy.
You really can’t predict it. That’s the main thing I liked about The Wailing; it’s impossible to guess where it’s going. There was a moment where I thought I’d sussed the twist, but out of nowhere, the film shocks and surprises in new ways.
The meat of the story comes when Jong-goo’s daughter starts behaving erratically and becomes infected with the skin disease. The second act is about his fight to save his daughter and solve the mystery alongside his police colleagues, who are equally terrible at their job. Now I think about it, I don’t think they make a single arrest. Wow.
So, what’s the cause of the brutal murders? Are the killings the work of someone or something? This film makes you scratch your head, so you’ll have to keep your brain switched on if you want any chance of keeping up. Jong-goo struggles with his nightmare investigation, all the while suspecting a strange Japanese man knows more about the murders than he will admit.
The Wailing goes a bit stale towards the end. There’s too much time spent on the exorcism rituals, which aren’t that interesting. And at two and half hours, this film is way too long. Everything could have been resolved a lot sooner. But the characters keep the film afloat at the point where it starts to drag. We care about their fate and hope they save the town. Also, the mystery never eases up, as the third act constantly sends the audience down blind alleys, building to a climax that is shocking and open-ended. I’d be amazing if anyone saw it coming.
Brace yourself for an intense, dark and eerie adventure. The Wailing is about the horrors of the right people turning into the wrong. You might get one hundred different interpretations of this film. It’s definitely one that rewards repeat viewings. Anyway, I give it a 4 out of 5 (Very good, thoroughly recommended.)
Directed and written by: Hong-jin Na
Stars: Do-won Kwak, Jung-min Hwang, Jun Kunimara, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim
Distributors: 20th Century Fox (South Korea) (all media)
Run Time: 156 minutes.
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Also, you can read more reviews of horror films (HERE)