Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Wailing

Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Cast: Kwak Do Won, Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee

Plot: When the people of a small town in South Korea start falling ill, going crazy and eventually die, the local police sergeant initially suspects poisonous mushrooms to be the cause, until he hears rumors that a Japanese man that has just arrived there, is up to something sinister and is behind it. When the sergeant's daughter falls ill as well, he takes matters into his own hands, which kickstarts a series of events that spiral out of control.

Review: This is only director Na Hong-jin's third film, but he's already making waves around the world with his work.

The Wailing takes place in a little town in South Korea where Jong-Goo, the local police sergeant lives with his wife, daughter and mother in-law. A series of mysterious deaths start occurring, where someone falls ill, turns insane and starts killing people. At first, Jong-Goo thinks it's just wild mushrooms causing the chaos, but people around him, including his partner, point their fingers at a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods. They claim he's not human and feed on people. Jong-Goo's daughter then succumbs to the same symptoms, forcing him to take drastic measures to handle the situation, including harassing the man and hiring a shaman to cure his daughter. What follows is a shitstorm that will likely not end well for him.

On the surface, Na's film doesn't look like a horror story, until it gets deeper and deeper into the crust of the situation Jong-Goo is in. The Wailing isn't just about evil, demonic possessions and the occult (elements that we've seen in other horror flicks), but also about fear and how it drives us humans to do things that we probably should not do. In this case, Jong-Goo is a devoted family man, though not a very good cop, who allows his own fear and prejudice to dictate his every move, something we can all relate to. Na adds this element on top of the above mentioned horror bits, leading to an intense and chilling final third of the film.

Credit must be given to the superb cinematography, capturing the vast mountains and eerie woods around the town, heck even the darkness of building interiors deserves a mention (though it was a bit too dark in the final scene). Kudos also to production design and makeup for creating such eerie sights of ritual rooms, corpses and animal carcasses, enough to make one feel queasy and uneasy.

Kwak Do Won is outstanding as Jong-Goo, making his character quite likable despite his obvious failings as a cop. He's such a tour de force that the rest of the cast don't hold a candle to him, though credit must be awarded to Jun Kunimura for his subdued yet unsettling portrayal of the Japanese man.

The one thing that bothered me a little was the ending. It was rather ambiguous, and I reckon Na must have intentionally ended it like that, because I did some research a while ago and there seems to be many interpretations of that ending, all which seem equally plausible. Nevertheless, it does spur viewers to go back and see it again to find clues, or try figuring out what it all means. One thing's for sure, as a horror film, it aims high and hits all its targets.

At 156 minutes, The Wailing might seem overindulgent, yet it's one of the best films of the year. Recommended. (8/10)

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