Writer: Na Hong-jin
Cast: Kwak Do-won, Jun Kunimura, Chun Woo-hee, Hwang Jung-min
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 156mins
What’s the story: In a rural South Korean village the locals begin to act psychotically deranged, murdering loved ones. The villagers believe a Japanese stranger is to blame and a slow-witted police sergeant must solve the mystery before it comes close to home.
What’s the verdict: Six long years have passed since writer/director Na Hong-jin’s blistering action thriller The Yellow Sea. Unfortunately, when watching The Wailing you are left wishing he had spent a year or so more fine tuning this horror epic.
Overlong but underdeveloped and often incoherent, The Wailing boasts a number of stand-out moments but collapses under its own illogic.
The film opens promisingly enough. None-too-bright police sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak) arrives at the scene of a murder, a husband seemingly having slaughtered his entire family. Nonsensical and covered in pustules, the man is swiftly taken away.
Virus-like, the madness begins infecting other villagers, who also break out in ugly boils and turn dangerous. As panic takes hold, blame is pinned on a Japanese stranger (Kunimura) living in the nearby hills.
When the peril gets close to Jong-gu, he enlists the help of a city shaman (Hwang) to exorcise the demons. But who is to be trusted? And should the rantings of a beautiful, unhinged young woman (Chun) be heeded more closely?
While a filmmaker of undoubted talent, Na seems lost within the horror genre. Taking a pick and mix approach to the plot, he yanks in elements of Memories of Murder, Seven, The Exorcist, The Shining, Outbreak and even The Walking Dead. Yet, all this becomes indigestible as plot holes yawn wide open and the extended run time becomes bogged down in confusion and repetition.
Lurking within here seems to be a commentary on the past Japanese occupation of Korea, and the current split between North and South and the demons of distrust and violence that has created. But, this could just be wishful thinking that Na has some plan for all this sound and fury.
The Wailing manages to rouse interest in a handful of striking sequences. A brace of exorcisms, all pounding drums, crashing cymbals, animal sacrifice and an imperilled youngster, approach the sensation of religious hysteria conjured by up Ken Russell’s The Devils. And a sort-of zombie attack is a successful blend of Shaun of the Dead style splatstick and grim Romero-like horror.
For much of the film Na plays it ambiguous as to how much of the mayhem is supernatural in origin. An explanation is ultimately delivered, but not one that satisfies, withstands scrutiny or leaves you without a badly scratched head.
Be interesting to see what he delivers next (presumably in 2022).
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