Movie #216 2021: The Wailing (2016)

Everyone’s obsessed with Squid Game, aren’t they? Don’t know if you’ve noticed. I get it: it’s pretty good. But something tells me that most of the people who are really in love with it have never seen anything else from South Korea… except maybe Parasite. I mean, it’s not even in my top five Korean films/TV shows, whereas so many people have become so enthralled by it that it’s probably one of their favourite TV shows of all time, never mind this year. (By the way, check out Japanese suspense thriller Alice in Borderland on Netflix if you feel that way.) I find that so strange when Asian cinema (specifically Korean and Japanese) is jam-packed full of films like The Wailing.

Directed by Na Hong-jin, The Wailing is yet another home run for the Korean horror-thriller canon. It’s difficult to really put together a synopsis for it because it involves so much, but to reduce it down and keep it spoiler-free, I’ll try my best.

Modern Korean Cinema: Review: THE WAILING, A Bone-Chilling, Thunderous  Descent Into Hell

The Wailing takes place in a small Korean town that is seemingly under threat by a mysterious sickness that starts to spread across the community. The virus seems to have taken hold when a secretive stranger moved to the village, and a local police officer becomes curious. When his young daughter appears to have caught the illness and is on the brink of death, he is forced to take on the mystery himself to save her.

I really can’t say much more without spoiling it, but just take note that it’s not just your standard detective story and it’s not just an average virus outbreak horror film.

Firstly, I’ll be honest, I have knocked an entire Q off my rating purely due to the fact that the main character was a useless, wholly unlikeable twat. There’s no other way of putting it: he frustrated the hell out of me throughout this entire film and I can’t look past it. However, I must give a massive round of applause to a then 14 year old Kim Hwan-hee though, who is an absolutely terrific actress, especially for her age. I really hope she has huge success in the future. 

Whilst confusing at times, The Wailing comes complete with a complex and fascinating plot. So many people credit Bong Joon-ho for his masterful genre-bending, but I’m convinced that it’s just an Asian cinema thing across the board. Here, we get a slice of so many different pies from detective mystery thriller to supernatural exorcism horror… and oh, look! Now there’s a zombie! Though the film is overly long, I never felt bored, so that’s an achievement in itself. 

Where The Wailing succeeds most however is in its ability to shock and create tension without ever resorting to jump scares. There are no audio cues to suggest that something terrifying is going to happen either, it’s just pure atmosphere from start to finish. Perhaps Hollywood could learn something from Korean horror in that respect.

The greatest juxtaposition? The subject matter is so horrific and yet some of the shots and the scenery are so beautiful. The mountainous landscapes? Breath-taking. The persistent rain? Obsessed. Were it just a little shorter and if the leading man didn’t PISS ME OFF SO MUCH, it might just be near perfect.

Whilst The Wailing does not reach the heights of the wonderful, almost immaculate Parasite, it’s definitely worth an evening of your time due to its crafty, original story that will shock you at every turn.

The Wailing is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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