South Korea’s Hong-jin Na wrote and directed The Wailing (subtitled), featuring Jun Kunimura (of Kill Bill Vol.s 1 and 2) as a nameless Japanese stranger whose arrival to a small South Korean village coincides with the outbreak of a sickness that spreads and turns infected villagers homicidal.
The movie begins by introducing Jun Goo (played by Do Won Kwak), as a less than competent police officer. Jun Goo’s bumbling leads to a lot of laughs at the start of the movie; so many laughs that you begin to wonder what direction this film is going to take. There has been a murder and Jun Goo is called on to investigate and the mystery begins. There are other murders throughout the movie which increase the suspicion and speculation surrounding the newly arrived Japanese stranger.
It is this suspicion and speculation that help to build tension in this film quite well, as this atmosphere of distrust and fear increase. The more you hear the villagers tell their tales about what they heard about the stranger, what they believe about the stranger, or what they swear they have seen first-hand (which of course, is difficult for others to believe because it is all so “far fetched”), you begin to wonder whether the stranger is somehow responsible for all the mysterious goings-on that have occurred since his arrival; or are these people being paranoid and targeting him because he is a stranger who is not of their community. Also thrown into the mix are other suspects who may be the evil force that is turning the villagers homicidal. What can be scarier than not knowing what or who you are actually afraid of? The film draws you in, in the sense that just as Jun Goo has no idea what to believe or who to trust, neither will you.
Along the way, the evil spirit attempts to possess Jun Goo’s daughter and he has to fight spiritually and physically to save her and the rest his family. As the story progresses, Jun Goo evolves from an incompetent boob to a man who is on a mission to save his daughter, and will stop at nothing to do so. At times his incompetence hinders him, but there is a total change in his good natured spirit that is visible and heart wrenching.
The Wailing is one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time. Most pieces of the movie are connected to the final outcome and you are kept guessing until very close to the very end when the “big reveal” occurs. Regarding the pieces that do not connect to the final outcome, Na seems to get a bit too “artistic” and the story becomes unnecessarily complicated with details that do not elevate the movie in any way. Thankfully, this is a rare occurrence throughout the film. The Wailing is part mystery, part comedy (until it’s no longer funny and turns very, very dark), part horror – and each element comes together mostly successfully.
The Wailing earns 7 bloops. If you are a true fan of horror and think you would appreciate seeing it in the theater, by all means do so. It is a good movie that is definitely worth a watch on cable or a streaming service, if you are a subscriber.