A 666-Word Review Of ‘The Wailing’

The Wailing takes place in rural South Korean village called Goksung (which means “wailing” in Korean). It starts out with slapstick comedy as Jong-Goo does as little police work as possible and bumbles through his life. Quite an accomplishment since the crime being investigated is a horrific, brutal murder. Even though he’s awful at his job, Jong-Goo is shown to be a devoted father and an endearing person. He happens to be in charge when a man covered in boils snapped and brutally stabbed his family to death. It isn’t an isolated incident. Others exhibit the same skin condition and start to behave erratically. Rumors surround a Japanese man who moved to the town claiming he’s a demon, spreading the sickness. The stakes are high since this affliction is spreading at an increasing rate, including to Jong-Goo’s daughter, Hyo-Jin. Is this man really a demon or are the accusations the result of bigotry?

This question first hinges on the affliction itself, depending on if it’s an unknown disease or the result of demonic possession. Both types of solution are explored, but medical science doesn’t seem to help. Hyo-Jin is the only character that we see go through each stage of this illness. It starts with a physical illness, pustules on the skin and seizures, and then progresses to extreme personality changes. When she threatens violence, Jong-Goo and his wife turn to Catholicism first. The priest insists that it’s medical issue and suggests they put their trust in doctors. They then turn to Korean Shamanism to free their daughter and return her to normal. It’s refreshing to see another religion included in exorcism rituals besides Catholicism as demonic possession isn’t a Christian invention. These scenes run a bit long, but I’ve never seen these types of rituals on film so I didn’t mind.

The question also depends on the man himself. He has no name in the film, only referred to as the Stranger or the old man or racist slurs. Jong-Goo tries to conduct his own investigation, but only succeeds in destroying the man’s property, killing his dog, and worsening the entire situation without getting closer to an answer. These scenes in particular are hard to watch because if Jong-Goo is wrong, he just destroyed this man’s home and friend after he’s already been the victim of bigotry. The Stranger simply replies to any questions and stands passively as his home is attacked. His actions are ambiguous until the end of the film. He could be trying to fight against demons, working for the demons, or just an innocent bystander. I couldn’t settle on one answer throughout the film and changed sides often.

Many of the reveals can be interpreted in different ways and it can be confusing during the first viewing to keep track of who is possessed, who is good, and who is evil (which can change). While the finale is up to interpretation, Movie Zum In created a video ( detailing their view of the entire film (spoiler alert), complete with explanations of what Korean audiences would always be familiar with as well as keeping track of the spirits and good and evil characters. To solidify my own reading, I would have to watch the film again as it’s a lot to process the first time around.

The Wailing is an incredibly tense experience. The beginning has a lot of silly moments, but once the story takes off, the suspense intensifies as the story goes on. These aren’t cheap jump scares, but a masterfully built visceral discomfort. The film is long for a horror film at over two and a half hours and not a moment feels unnecessary. The rural setting is a beautiful backdrop that also makes the characters feel cut off and isolated. The effects are eerily realist, especially the skin rash, except for one small scene. The Wailing is a frightening, intense movie, but also an emotional one as Jong-Goo struggles to save his family and his town from demonic forces.

Editor's Rating

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Elizabeth Talbott

Elizabeth Talbott

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