The Wailing (2016)

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Director: Hong-Jin Na

Stars: Do Won Kwak, Jung-min Hwang, Hwan-hee Kim

A wailing delight

Anyone who follows South Korea’s horror film output will be unsurprised to hear that Hong-Jin Na’s (of The Chaser fame) latest film is yet another K-horror classic. If there’s one country you can count on for producing innovative, gripping and unpredictable horror films then it’s South Korea. We’ve had countless high quality horror from them including: Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, Bedevilled and even the recent Train to Busan. The Wailing can now be added to that lovely long list.

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It’s labelled as a ‘horror’ movie but really The Wailing is an exciting mix of comedy, thriller, mystery and supernatural horror. For the first time in quite some while, I had no idea where this 150 minute journey was going to take me. It begins as a Memories of Murder style crime drama. We’re introduced to our lovable bumbling hero, played by an enthralling Do-wan Kwak, who is a policeman investigating a string of strange incidents in his small town. Mass murder seems to being some local folk’s mind and they’re also turning into red-eyed, mindless zombies for no apparent reason. Does it have anything to do with a mysterious Japanese recluse who has recently resided in the nearby forest? Or perhaps the talk of ghosts and goat-eating loons play a part in this mystery?

From the get go, The Wailing effortlessly draws you into its enigmatic story. What surprised me was how funny the film was, particularly the first half. Honestly, The Wailing has to be one of the funniest films of 2016, I was howling with laughter every five minutes. It never takes itself too seriously and always finds the comic side to its bizarre situations so nothing ever seems overly silly. A lot of what makes the dry humour so effective is down to Do-wan Kwak’s comic timing. His performance is so endearing and he makes his character so likeable that you can’t help but get sucked into the story. The film also cleverly takes its time to explore his home life as well as work, so we’re fully involved in every aspect of our protagonist.

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Once the film hits around the halfway point though, it ceases all comedic aspects and segues into much darker territory. The change is seamless within the story though and only adds to the edge-of-your-seat unpredictability. It’s difficult to talk about the film without giving away any plot twists (of which there are many) and I don’t want to do that. Just be assured that you’ll be surprised and thoroughly absorbed by our main character’s journey. In the hands of a less skilful director and screenwriter then the twists would come across as implausibly silly and tonally distracting, but Hong-Jin Na makes every turn seem fresh and exciting.

The Wailing only gets more gripping as the film progresses. When the horror gets close to home, the film becomes a dizzying tale of a desperate father rather than a police drama. A big shout-out has to be said for Hwan-hee Kim who plays Kwak’s young daughter. Her performance is nothing short of mesmerising. A lot of the time I forgot that I was watching a film with actors and started to really believe about what was happening on screen, which is no easy task when you’re dealing with themes involving the supernatural. Perhaps the film is a little longer than it needed to be, but not once did I find myself feeling bored or uninvolved.

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The Wailing is a real showcase for Korean cinema. It has such an ambition and originality which is sadly lacking in most Hollywood productions. No doubt they’ll get their hands on remake rights, but it’ll never be as authentic as this one. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film and had absolutely no idea how it was going to end. The Wailing builds itself up to such an unpredictable and intense finale that it’s bound to become a deserved cult classic. I also liked how the film is so ambiguous and unforgiving in its lack of exposition that you can’t help but think about it long after the credits have rolled. Don’t read any reviews, don’t watch the trailer, just watch it and then watch it again. The Wailing is a brilliant highlight in a year that has been full of them.

nine-out-of-ten

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