‘Not everything that moves, breathes, and talks is alive…’
After the runaway success of Parasite, there has never been a better time to explore South Korean cinema. If you haven’t seen Oldboy, you should probably stop what you are doing immediately and address that, but if you want something a little more horror orientated, The Wailing is the film for you. One of the great strengths of South Korean cinema is its ability to blend different styles together to form an uneasy whole. The Wailing combines body horror, supernatural hijinks and jet black humour to forge a movie that is as strange and unknowable as Pinhead’s puzzle box (until the very last scene where everything comes together that is – hence puzzle box – the best similes are the ones that require a detailed explanation…).
Jong-goo (Do-wan Kwak) is a happy-go-lucky policeman who finds himself treading water when his village comes under siege from an unknown force. This coincides with the arrival of a mysterious and unnamed Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) and a terrible plague attacking Jong-goo’s village.
The Wailing somehow manages to combine a slow build up of tension with terrifying horror set pieces to produce a film that ebbs and flows with menace – as if the film reels themselves are ready to burst into life and attack through the screen. Kwak is restrained when he needs to be, but The Wailing is at its best when everyone loses their head, particularly in a nightmarish 15 minute sequence in which two shamen perform two very different spells.
Director Hong-jin Na foregrounds the spiritual aspects of the film and juxtaposes more traditional South Korean beliefs with that of Christianity to devastating effect. The eventual reveal of the demon is as haunting and credible as any I have seen in the possession genre and even whilst clocking in at over two and a half hours, The Wailing remains captivating and compelling throughout.
I have dabbled in South Korean cinema and nearly always been pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it’s time to dive in a little deeper…