THE WAILING

PrintE-mail Written by Scott Clark

Hong-jin Na’s The Wailing made a lot of noise at Cannes film festival this year, garnering some pretty solid verdicts. The latest from the South Korean director who made The Yellow Sea is an odd thriller which follows ill-equipped policeman Jong Goo(Do-Won Kwak) as he investigates a strange infection and spate of savage murders that erupt across town with the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man (Jun Kunimura).

The film is a strange mix of horror and dark comedy, only lightly skirting the edges of humour through a prism of the blackest kind. But the film could never be labelled as a black comedy or even a horror film; the ease with which it wanders through genre ideas and tones is a credit to the cohesiveness of its world.

The Wailing never feels ridiculous, or even silly. By invoking black magic, occult, and shamanistic icons, Hong-jin Na constructs a place where anything can happen. The savagery of the murder and on-screen gore is shocking, but not as affecting as some of the more subtle scares. There’s almost something Lynchian about the ease with which evil seems to permeate through every frame, slowly infecting the sanctity of the domestic environment as well as Jong Goo himself. Much of this is down to cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong whose miserable rain-soaked palette does as much for the crushing atmosphere as events themselves. His work on Snowpiercer was as successful  at helping establish a natural lived-in quality, the bonus effect here is that The Wailing’s fantastical moments earn a real kick and a bonus element of discomforting reality.

It’s not too weird for its own good though. Hong-jin Na is a master at building tension or simply letting his scares crawl out the woodwork. There’s plenty moments that illustrate a deep understanding of the mechanics of fear and plenty images which illustrate a good eye for basic unsettling visual gags, but it’s the framing of those events that is so impressive. The characters that matter are well portrayed and drafted, so it’s easy to get dragged along by this ultimately mysterious trail of moral and spiritual turmoil.

Hong-jin Na’s latest is an engrossing slow-burner, at first a moody thriller eventually a dense network of ominous acts of cruelty and horror. There’s something infectiously interesting about its refusal to define itself, and -even if the ending doesn’t quite tie up what the film initially set out to explore- it does offer a beautifully crafted story with plenty discomforting concepts.

The Wailing is an undeniably ambitious film, discontent with being a simple thriller. The results are two-fold: firstly, it’s an entrancing experience elevated beyond the simple mechanics of what’s expected, secondly, it makes a huge group of contemporary western thrillers seem comparatively dispensable.

THE WAILING / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NA HONG-JIN / STARRING: DO WON KWAK, WOO-HEE CHUN, JUNG-MIN HWANG, SO-YEON JANG, HAN-CHEOL JO, JUN KUNIMURA / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 11TH

Expected: 7/10
Actual Rating:

 


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