Film Review: The Wailing

Hong-jin Na’s The Wailing is a genre-twisting picture that engages, entertains, and frightens. The film keeps viewers guessing until the very end.

In the village of Goksung, police officer Jong-Goo is called to investigate a number of grisly murders. With a hallmark rash, these crimes seemed to be linked. His colleague tells him some gossip about a mysterious stranger, whose arrival coincided with the murders…

Writer-director Hong-jin Na’s The Wailing is a film that exudes mystery. With a running time of 156 minutes, it seems a difficult task to maintain this sense of intrigue. Nevertheless, Na does this ably, creating a mysterious, bizarre and often nerve-racking film.

To begin with, the film has echoes of Twin Peaks, with its odd assortment of villagers and bumbling officers. Despite the graphic imagery, The Wailing feels like a black comedy in its initial stages. This changes, however, as the film progresses. The level of suspense increases as incidents become more serious. Na combines the mystery of a whodunit with the fearfulness of a paranoid horror. This formula is very effective at keeping viewers on their toes.

The narrative of The Wailing fluctuates wildly on the plausibility scale, but this does not matter given how well the film engrosses and entertains. In one sense, the film feels like a parable about the negativity of gossip and distrusting an outsider. However, as the film progresses, it seems to asking a bigger question. Na very effectively reaches a crescendo of hysteria with the shaman rituals. The editing and sound design in these scenes work incredibly well. The finale injects a concentrated shot of the suspense that the director has been building throughout. Unlike many horrors, the film maintains suspense until the very end.

The cinematography successfully captures the natural setting of the village, whilst working well to mirror the dark undertones of the narrative. Do-won Kwak is well cast as the everyman protagonist Jong-Goo. Jun Kunimura brings a sense of ambiguity to his character that is very effective. Hwan-hee Kim is also great as Hyo-jin.

The Wailing is a brilliantly constructed film, which offers the type of mystery that horror buffs often crave.

The Wailing is released on DVD on Monday 30th January 2017.