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Review: The Wailing – “A lively and incredibly unpredictable film”

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the wailing

The Wailing, original title: “Goksung”, is a Korean horror-thriller written and directed by Hong-jin Na (The Yellow Sea), that stars Do Won Kwak (The Nowhere Man), Jung Min Hwang (Veteran), and Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill).

Jong-Goo (Kwak) is a lazy doofus cop in a poor South Korean hinterland. When a bizarre spate of savage murders perpetrated by family members on their own relatives strikes the village he is sucked into a multiple murder investigation. The number one suspect is a creepy Japanese man living in the hills, “The Stranger” (Kunimura), who, after a bungled search and interview by Jong-Goo leaves his dog dead, has reason to hate the oafish cop.

Soon after, Jong-Goo’s super sweet little daughter, Hyo Jin (Hwan Hee Kim), develops a foul mouth and is clearly being possessed by a demon set upon her by “The Stranger”. Jong-Goo calls in the coolest shaman ever, Il-Gwang (Hwang) who, using intricate hand movements and whistles, finds a dead crow in the family’s soy sauce that points to Hyo Jin being purposely cursed. Thus begins a spiritual ritual arms race between “The Stranger” and the shaman as they war over the young girl’s soul with sacrifices and spells.

Hwan Hee Kim’s performance as the to-be-exorcised Hyo Jin is excellent as she goes from butter-wouldn’t-melt to your-mother-sucks-cocks-in-hell, and her performance is made all the more horrifying by her hurling all this horribleness with her own girlish voice. Mostly on the end of that is her poor dad who Kwak wonderfully plays as woefully out of his depth and believably absolutely panicked and petrified.

Kunimura’s “Stranger” is stone cold and mysterious, with a back story that fluctuates from being a researcher, to a psycho, to a powerful dark magic wielder, to perhaps the Devil himself. And he may also be a ghost. His opposite number, Il-Gwang, is one of the coolest characters in film this year: played with suave, smooth and supreme confidence by Hwang.

The Wailing joyfully jumps sub-genres with the main possession through-line also taking in witchcraft, cannibals and zombies; grim gore, and even some big laughs via blasts of hilarious and ridiculous, near-slapstick comedy. It is a lively and incredibly unpredictable film, that is also long and complex. The duration is an issue, the pace slowing and smothering, when more zip would have equalled more narrative urgency and a more fraught viewing experience.

Enjoyably out-of-place humour, coupled with an enticing mystery, quality performances throughout, and a dark, claustrophobic, raggedy sense of space created by Na, make for a film that is a real one-off. But that excellent exorcism is dulled by the film’s over-egged length and a confused and frustrating blue balls ending that may fly right over your head.

3.5-out-of-5

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