The Wailing is a hysterical and strange South Korean epic that tries to be both a horror movie and a thriller, and one could argue that, for the first hour or so, it wants to be a dark comedy as well. While this cocktail of genres approach from director Hong-jin Na doesn’t work out in many ways, the flavors in this bloody and shrieking tale are undoubtedly bold, perhaps even unforgettable.
The two-and-a-half hour film takes place in a rainy rural village beset by a plague that seems to turn people into murderous zombie creatures. But these aren’t the flesh-munching undead American audiences have become so familiar with. Instead, these creatures arise from something supernatural and maleficent. Na leans on religion here, pulling from Asian demonic superstitions as well as Christian myths, to create a detective story wherein a hapless cop, played explosively by Do Won Kwak, tries his best uncover why his town has gone to hell. At first, his incompetence is a joke, but after his young daughter becomes possessed by a demonic force, our sympathies go out to the father struggling to help his little girl.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of The Wailing is that, despite its impressive length, it’s never boring. It might have some half-baked or even straight-out dumb horror moments, but The Wailing‘s every turn is so unexpected you just have to keep from watching. There are bizarre dream sequences, bloody and exquisitely choreographed exorcisms, gnarly fights with the living dead, and even a man who’s suddenly struck by lightning. The fever pitch of occult weirdness makes the mystery at the heart of the film all that more engaging. Is the Japanese man new to town causing all the trouble? It is that woman in white with otherworldly knowledge? And what do all the symbols mean? Na doesn’t leave us with clean answers, and that gives his film, which is wildly inconsistent, real mental staying power.
If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks and Asian horror movies, this isn’t something to miss. This is weirdness done right. The Wailing is playing at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.