An underwhelming horror with an uncomfortable undertone, Na Hong Jin’s The Wailing could have been so much more.
An impressive third genre in three films for the Korean director follows bumbling police sergeant Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) as a strange spate of murders begin to grip his area. The perpetrators are found covered in boils, unable to talk, and still sat beside their gruesome victims, often family members. As the film builds, the suspicion turns towards an elderly Japanese man who recently moved to the village, and the theories turn to the supernatural. Soon, Jong-goo’s daughter begins to show signs symptomatic of the other murders, and he does all he can to try and prevent her succumbing to the same fate. Employing an exuberant shaman (Hwang Jung Min) doesn’t procure the results they hope for, and Jong-goo, accompanied by a band of friends, attempt to resolve the situation themselves.
Credit must be given for the fact that the film spans 156 minutes, but didn’t feel much beyond 90. It does lose its way in the rather convoluted middle bulk, but recaptures the interest with an enormous array of religious allusion when building to its conclusion. Surprisingly, despite its graphic content, The Wailing never really builds any tension, provides jump scares, or does much at all within its remit as a horror film.
“it could have been so much more”
The scenes of ritual are fantastic, and Hwang Jung Min shines as the shaman amidst the rousing exorcism, filled with fire, colour, and noise. The other performances don’t reach quite the peak of the shaman, but certainly aren’t of a poor nature.
Throughout the film, the characters all refer to the Japanese man simply as ‘the Jap’, and the manner in which they respond to and discuss the man is really quite uncomfortable. Initially the slur appears to colour the picture and build the story, but with each repeated use and viewed in context with the conclusion, it creates a distinctly unwelcome tone.
The Wailing is not a bad film, but nor is it particularly good. There are some hugely promising elements within the feature that demonstrate at least an able understanding of the horror genre, but none really come to fruition. Na Hong Jin certainly understands how to shoot a picture, and his use of sound and colour is to be lauded, but as a complete production, it doesn’t quite match up to its potential.
Image: Na Hong Jin