Wailing, The (2016)

Review #1,330

Director:  Na Hong-jin
Cast:  Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee 
Plot:  A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading.  A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.

Genre:  Drama / Mystery / Horror
Awards:  Official Selection (Cannes)
Runtime:  156min
Rating:  NC16 
International Sales:  Finecut
Singapore Distributor:  Clover Films

There was a sequence in The Chaser (2008) where a crooked cop is on a foot chase with a suspect in a labyrinth of dark alleyways.  A loud, ferocious drumming accompanied the part with startling effect.  It was there and then that I told myself that Na Hong-jin would become a great director. 

He followed up with The Yellow Sea (2010), which competed in the Cannes Un Certain Regard category to acclaim.  After six long years, Na is back with The Wailing, which premiered out of competition at Cannes.  This is his most epic film to date, clocking in twenty minutes shy of three hours.  It may have taken a longer route than it should to get to the finishing line, but this is not the result of poor pacing, but the complexities in plotting. 

And my word, what elaborate plotting!  Na’s film is engrossing from start to end, enshrining his work with an overall sense of unease, while invoking genre trappings, particularly utilizing horror and mystery tropes very effectively—and sometimes tearing them apart—to both assuage and misdirect viewers. 

I'm of course most impressed by Na's use of sound and music, to create feelings of doom and anticipation.  The aural introduction of a Korean shaman midway comes with a ceremonial brashness, as startling as that aforementioned chase. 

Plot-wise, The Wailing centers on a series of grisly killings, inflicted with pure rage.  A bumbling cop is sent to investigate, uncovering something that possibly defies belief.  Well, it all started with the arrival of a Japanese man…

Na conceives something quite remarkable with just that logline, bringing in themes of supernaturalism, religion, faith and ethnicity to the fore, wrapped in the fervour of fear, and the rigour of an investigative procedural.  There’s so much going on—shamanism, allegory, mythology—yet through a solid grounding in the aesthetics of reality, The Wailing avoids the inevitable dive into fantasy and fanaticism. 

Instead, what we get is a top-notch mystery-thriller with an emotional father-daughter dynamic.  It is as satisfying as it is disturbing, yet highly plausible as it deliberates, however lengthily, the psychological vulnerabilities of men when their faiths are put to the most extreme of tests. 

Verdict:  Na Hong-jin is back with a solid mystery-thriller with elements of the supernatural, engrossing from start to end, even if it takes a longer route than it should. 


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