The Wailing is an expansive and often excruciating horror film from South Korea. It is the work of the director Na Hong-jin, whose 2009 debut feature, the action thriller The Chaser, made a huge impression not least for its almost staggering flouting of genre convention. The Wailing (2016), about demonic possession, is similarly uncompromising.
It is unusual for horror movies to run well over two hours, as The Wailing does. This isn’t just because this writer-director likes to stuff his films with incident. He wants to both settle in viewers and throw them off a bit.
The movie opens with a police sergeant, Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won), investigating a double murder in his quiet, rural village. The crime is grisly, but Jong-gu is an amiable, likable fellow; his endearing personality gives the first quarter of the film a comic underpinning. Mr. Na enjoys overt directorial misdirection as well; early on, the scenes that end with Jong-gu waking in a panic from a bad dream are numerous enough to remind one of Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
Things turn more serious once Jong-gu links a wave of crime and physical illness to a taciturn Japanese man who lives in a house high on a mountaintop, and more serious still after Jong-gu’s daughter (Kim Hwan-hee, in an extraordinary performance) develops a rash and starts using obscene language. The Wailing has echoes of The Exorcist, but it is often even bleaker than that 1973 horror classic, as in a scene in which a Catholic priest tells Jong-gu, “The church cannot help you.” By this time, I was so invested with Jong-gu and his family that as the suspense, violence and worse ratcheted up, I was not merely scared, but heartbroken. An overly literal bit of business at the end slightly undermines the film. As a whole, though, The Wailing is the hard stuff. Handle with care.
Courtesy of The New York Times