I went into my viewing of The Wailing having seen the trailer a little while back and knowing it was sporting a 99% Fresh Rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The trailer had been impressive, my wife and I were both intrigued, but I’d honestly forgotten about the film until it popped up on so many “best of” scary movie lists this month. Once it was decided what our movie plans were for the evening we settled in and got ready for what we hoped were some great scares. Now that we’ve seen it, I’m going to weigh in on one of the most celebrated South Korean films of the last decade.
The basic plot, without spoiling things, revolves around a small mountain village on South Korea that is being plagued by bizarre violent outbursts, murder suicides, and unexplainable illness. Our protagonist is an affable, if not very strong willed, police officer who finds himself wrapped up in the investigations of these crimes. Our antagonist is unknown but all of the village believes an outsider, a reclusive Japanese shaman, has to be responsible for the plague on the town.
Let’s dig into the good first. A lot of the plot is told through stories being told by townspeople or other officers. This allows these sections to be a little over the top or not very reality based since they’re being spiced up by the teller. I thought this was an interesting vehicle for adding flair where there might not have been otherwise. Another thing I enjoyed is the misdirection and red herrings that fill the film. I advise you to PAY ATTENTION. There are clues that abound throughout the film but they’re hidden in plain sight. There’s a tremendous amount of biblical allegory, so keen that in mind.
Casting plays an important part and this is another area where The Wailing succeeds. You get invested in the characters and the plight they’re in. It’s a tough sell sometimes, especially in horror films, but even more so when you’re watching a film from half the world away. From major characters to bit parts, The Wailing is filled with rich personalities, little frailties, and an unfiltered look at impoverished remote living.
Now let’s look at some of the areas that weren’t as positive. My biggest complaint, the movie is just too long. Clocking in at over two and a half hours, The Wailing felt like it extended its welcome by 35 to 45 minutes. Another thing that bothered me is that while the ending is open to discussion and interpretation, which is great, there are some plot points and sub-stories that just don’t get fleshed out as neatly as they should. You might hear a blurb on a radio in someone’s house that ties up a storyline, and while I understand the director leaving little hidden cookies of information right there in plain sight, he’s doing so in a room where 3 bodies have been mutilated and your attention is distracted.
Overall, I thought The Wailing is an excellent example of how South Korea has grown to the forefront of serious and suspenseful drama. The focus on the people involved, how they’re affected emotionally, is the true driver here. Be warned, there are some truly disturbing scenes here and if the occult is something that interests you, The Wailing is about to make your October. Little quibbles aside, I enjoyed the film, though again, at a certain point I was like, “wait…there’s another hour left in this movie?!?”. So, as long as you know you’re in for a long haul, enjoy The Wailing, and hit my up on what you thought, because you’re certainly going to want to discuss it!