A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
“Not everything that moves, breathes, and talks is alive.”
In the isolated Korean village of Goksung a series of horrific murders have shaken the community to its core. When investigated by the police the perpetrators are often found at the scene of the crime hunched over in a comatose state, their bodies covered with a bizarre infection. Paranoia sweeps through the tiny village where violence of this magnitude is rare. It’s clear that nobody is ready to accept the police’s theory that the murderers ingested wild mushrooms and went on a psychedelic killing spree. Locals see fit to place the blame on a transient Japanese man they affectionately call “The Jap” who lives in a shack outside of town. With whispers of ancient superstition and folklore seeping into everyone’s ears it’s tough for even bumbling police sergeant Jong-hu (Do Won Kwak) to keep things straight.
Being the resident “keystone cop” Jong-hu can’t get through a night shift without losing crowd control or embarrassing himself around his superiors. Not long after the bodies start piling up our hero’s dreams are infected with visions of “The Jap” gnawing on a deer carcass before chasing after him with glowing red eyes. Days later Jong-hu’s daughter Hyo-jin develops a weird rash and begins convulsing in the night. A shaman is hired from Seoul who arrives in his luxury SUV ready to exorcise the evil spirits contained within her frail body. Apparently the devil has come to town in a form yet to be discovered.
At nearly 3 hours Na Hong-jin’s ‘The Wailing’ isn’t paced like a typical possession film. It eschews any solid rules in order to slowly build a complex narrative in which literally anything can happen. Our schlubby hero is caught in a “horror-comedy of errors” at which some point you think he’ll fall face first into the last clue of the mystery wrapping it all up in a neat bow. That sounds like something I’d pay to see. If ‘Hot Fuzz’ meets ‘The Exorcist’ was the tagline I’d be there! Jong-hu may be the oaf of the police force but it’s his innocence that keeps the audience grounded when the supernatural terror becomes reality. To see him face his daughter reeling in complete agony while suffering the physical infection of a supernatural spirit was enough for me to pause the film. Of the many intense moments in ‘The Wailing’ THIS was the one that pushed me over the edge.
Na Hong-jin knows when to amp up the intensity to feverish levels.
However, his control over the narrative is bested by his control over the camera. Shot by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong who recently shot ‘Snowpiercer’, the utterly gorgeous photography will be a saving grace when the murky waters of the narrative bog you down. A perpetual rain shower anoints every surface of the film with a glittery mirror that transforms ramshackle huts into supernatural doorways. On the surface the cozy village of Goksung seems like the most unlikely place for the devil to hide. The devil is in the details, right?
Na Hong-jin directs a film that balances faith, belief, and cultural identity with slapstick comedy and exorcisms. What a combo! The film opens with a Bible verse from Luke 24:38 - “Why are you troubled,’ Jesus asked, ‘and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see - for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” This passage is Jesus appearing to his followers after the resurrection telling them that it’s no hallucination, I’m the real deal in the flesh. Injecting this piece of scripture into a film about a supernatural murder spree adds a thematic weight that doesn’t start pulling till the deafening beat of the shaman’s drum assaults your ears.
At it’s core ‘The Wailing’ is about the suspension of disbelief among devout villagers juxtaposed with a rational police force trying to make sense of unexplainable events. Na Hong-jin plays with your expectations using dark comedy and grisly horror while holding the puppet strings. Unfortunately at the point in which you’ve suffered enough and are ready to applaud his expertise behind the curtain he takes another breath and works out a lengthy but muddy resolution.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘The Wailing’ arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Well Go USA. The movie is pressed onto a BD50 disc housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover. The disc opens with the Well Go USA logo and 3 trailers before settling onto the Main Menu.
Presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 ‘The Wailing’ looks striking on this Well Go USA Blu-ray. Wide landscape shots are breathtaking in their color and texture. They nearly resemble oil paintings in their palette and texture. The interplay of natural light with the rain soaked locations give the production an almost fantastical twinkle light aesthetic keeping this grounded film stuck at times in the supernatural stratosphere. Deep blacks are solid throughout. Image transfer is clean with no artifacts or stability issues. Given that the film can veer quickly into scenes of heavy CG effects with color correction there is no loss of quality even during it’s most tinkered-with moments. A film that highlights the eerie beauty of the Korean countryside makes the terror more palpable under the cover of darkness with excellent levels of detail in otherwise shadowy conditions.
A percussive score punctuates without the standard bass plops typical for modern horror movie scores. Somber musical cues combined with ambient environmental noises help lay the groundwork for the film’s audio tracks. Dialogue is clear. Rear surround channels announce most scenes before carrying the sonic weight forward into the front channels heightening the experience. ‘The Wailing’ is a slow burner of a film and thankfully the scoring takes advantage of this build to intensity throughout the film’s nearly 3 hour runtime. By the third act the 5.1 DTS track is pumping on all cylinders. No hisses or pops detected. Volume levels are consistent throughout the feature. English subtitles available.
The Beginning of The Wailing (HD) (1:51) Interviews and behind the scenes footage
Making Of (HD) (4:56) More behind the scenes footage combined with some of the cast and crew interviews from the previous featurette. Some interesting stuff but too short for my liking.
Trailer (HD) (1:54)
Combining slapstick comedy and gruesome supernatural horror, ‘The Wailing’ can be viewed as either a demonic thrill ride or an intense arthouse horror film. It’s this tonal ambiguity that makes the film an engaging watch even if the character’s motivations are questionable. Hong-jin Na puts everything but the kitchen sink into ‘The Wailing’ so multiple viewings are necessary! With a stellar A/V presentation but meager supplemental features ‘The Wailing’ is a must watch for horror fans still reeling after ‘The Witch’ and ‘The Babadook’. Recommended.