Korean filmmaker Na Hong-jin follows his nail-biting thriller The Chaser and sprawling epic The Yellow Sea with this excellent supernatural horror, which sees the director approach this new territory with the same grit, realism and clumsy violence with tremendous results.
A small town in the Korean mountains is rocked by a string of brutal murders, and the local police are at a loss. The shaky explanation given by the authorities is that the attackers are out of their minds on mushrooms, but the locals point the finger at a Japanese stranger (veteran character actor Jun Kunimura) who lives in the woods outside of town and may be a demon. When officer Jong-Goo’s (Kwak Do-won) young daughter seems to fall under his spell, the cop will do whatever it takes to put a stop to the deepening insanity.
Although The Chaser had strong horror elements, The Wailing definitely feels like something new for Na, although it clearly bears his authorial stamp. The two and a half hour running time may seem like a tall order for a horror movie, and it is a little overlong, but the film is less concerned with jump scares and more with whipping this small town into a hysterical frenzy.
With its mostly well-intentioned but mostly ineffectual rural lawmen heroes, the film recalls Bong Joon-ho’s Memories Of Murder, and Kwak is superb as the slightly heavy, boozy, back pain-ridden hero who is suddenly confronted with gore-drenched crime scenes, shamanic rituals and a daughter who may be possessed. There’s great humour in the film but it comes from a recognisable humanity, watching these people react to things they cannot understand.
The plotting does become increasingly convoluted and nonsensical, but the confusion for Jong-Goo and the viewer is clearly deliberate. With beautiful, epic cinematography of the mountain forests from Hong Kyung-pyo, some very effective sudden shocks, and a powerful blend of detective story, occult horror and Stephen King-esque small-town suspicion, this is another superb film from Na Hong-jin.
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