New Release Horror: The Wailing - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the South Korean horror thriller The Wailing.

Mother of Christ!
Look at the size of that thing!
On a television documentary about horror films, Eli Roth wisely said in reference to Takashi Miike's Audition that the only people making real, genuinely terrifying horror films in the world come from Asia.  Aiding Roth's sentiment is the new South Korean horror film The Wailing from the genre director behind The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, Na Hong-Jin.  The film begins as a police procedural about a series of bizarre murders engulfing the rural region of Goksung seemingly in conjunction with an inexplicable viral outbreak afflicting the small village.  Over the course of two-and-a-half hours the film gradually encompasses everything from shamanism, demonic possession, zombification, cannibalism, infectious disease and old fashioned superstition where neither we nor the characters are sure what's real or imagined or for that matter who our allegiances lie with.  Think Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure as a full throated fanged and veins-baring scream as opposed to a silent slow burn.  

What makes The Wailing so frightening is the refusal to recycle traditional horror tonality tropes which have taken over mainstream American horror films concerning the supernatural.  Like The Exorcist, everything happens seemingly in real time without expectation and more often than not we the viewer are dropped in the middle of this literal and figurative Hell on Earth while being left almost completely alone in our interpretation.  This could well have been just another devil movie but because we're never sure, The Wailing achieves the rare feat of being readable either as a bona fide demonic possession horror film or just a psychological character study of one policeman's world unraveling as he tries to make sense of the inexplicable events happening around him.  Unlike The Conjuring 2 which is built around uncovering the answers, The Wailing is about what it feels like to be in the middle of unbearable tension, paranoia and hysterics.    

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Shot lovingly in 2.35:1 widescreen, The Wailing transports viewers into a traditional village arena where technological advancement seems decades behind and enclosed doors adorned with eerie photographs and occult artifacts evoke the red taped doors of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse.  At times I honestly thought of the Playstation 2 videogame Siren and it's rural villages overrun with possessed and zombified villagers where the closer we think we've come to an answer, the more labyrinthine and all encompassing the terrifying otherwordly epidemic becomes.  Performances across the board are strong, led by Kwak Do-won as a police officer in over his head and unsure of how much of his practical police training needs to be set aside to digest the superstitious fears that seem all too real to dismiss as malarkey.  Despite taking place in a tiny little Korean village, there's a sense of vastness to the inexplicable events afflicting this town and you're left with the feeling that for as much as you've witnessed, you've only scraped the tip of the iceberg.  True to Korean cinema, the film is deliberately and methodically slow paced but you're so caught up in trying with Kwak Do-won to figure out an explanation to the horrors engulfing his village that you forget how much time has elapsed when the end credits start to roll.  The film is also told without compromise and proceeds towards a bleak finale that is sure to leave you disturbed and galvanized.

I told you already!!! No more choking on chicken bones!

More than anything, The Wailing is that rare horror thriller where even after everything, we're honestly not sure what to believe.  Fans of Asian horror will rejoice that alas, a supernatural (depending on your point of view) thriller with teeth and brass knuckles has arrived to frighten and unsettle in ways few horror films ever have before.  Unlike the recently released The Shallows which will startle and scare for two hours before being filed away and forgotten, The Wailing is one that will have you mulling over for days before returning to it again and again as the years go by.  Horror is typically a brief and often fun diversion but for one to actually get under your skin and burrow itself deep within your psyche long after it has ended is a rare and admirable feat.  One of the most frightening scenes in the film involves a shaman trying to cast a spell to cleanse the town of the evils that seem to inhabit it and I must tell you, not since the now infamous exorcism sequence in The Exorcist has the capture on film of the war between spiritual forces in the universe felt so tangibly real and so completely and utterly terrifying.  There, I said it, someone in the world has finally made a horror film about supernatural forces that understands what made William Friedkin's The Exorcist so deathly frightening. 


- Andrew Kotwicki