Review: The Wailing (Fantasia Review)

The Wailing (Fantasia Review)
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the wailing

PLOT: A policeman working in a small South Korean town finds that many of his townsfolk are being afflicted with a mysterious illness that results in a rash, violent mental derangement, and finally – death. When his beloved daughter is afflicted, he succumbs to superstition, and sets in motion a diabolical series of events that will spell doom for his whole family.

REVIEW: You’d think that in nearly a decade of covering movies at the Fantasia Film Festival, I would have gotten used to the best stuff always coming from South Korea. This year has proven to be no exception, as nearing the end of the first week, by far the most striking film I’ve seen is the South Korean horror/thriller, THE WAILING. Already a major hit in its home territory – despite being one of the year’s most challenging and often depressing thrillers– this comes from director Na Hong-jin, who, a few years ago, brought another amazing thriller to Fantasia – THE CHASER.

the wailing Kwak Do-won

While that was basically a cop thriller meshed-up with a slasher flick, THE WAILING is a whole other beast. Running over two and a half hours, this is an epic drama that subverts audience expectations at every turn. The afflicted victims certainly look like zombies, and the idea that a hex could be responsible also seems normal for the genre, but anytime you’re sure some supernatural hocus pocus is going on, the movie offers you a totally rational explanation, so you never know who to believe.

As is the norm for South Korean fare, this is heavily character based, with a terrific lead performance by Kwak Do-won. A pudgy cop content with his lot, he makes for an unusual hero. Early on he cuts an almost comical figure, with his clumsiness exploited for comedic effect. He’s shown to be a total coward, with him even peeing his pants when tackled by a sick old woman. He’s also shown to be ignorant and racist, with him very easily led to the opinion that his town’s troubles all stem from the arrival from a Japanese immigrant (Jun Kunimura) who he starts to think is a demon.

While an unusual lead who even murders a dog at one point, he’s redeemed by the fact that underneath it all he’s a loving husband and a doting dad, and his intentions are good even if his tactics are murderous. His paranoia is eventually exploited by a slick shaman (mega-star Hwang Jung-min), who performs a really weird and disturbing exorcism on the young girl, and is another character who’s tough to pin down. You may think you have him pegged, but you’ll likely be wrong.

the wailing Hwang Jung-min

While a 150 minute running time may seem indulgent for a thriller, it works to THE WAILING’s benefit, with us spending a lot of time getting to know our heroes, and the last hour is a roller-coaster of horror. A contemporary genre film operating on this level has been unheard of in North American films for a while, with even art-house horror like THE WITCH not coming close to the level THE WAILING’s operating at. You really need to go back thirty-or-forty years to find a North American equivalent, with THE SHINING, THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY being the type of fare you could slot this in with. It’s a shame that genre films in North America don’t get the same kind of respect here that they do abroad. THE WAILING is horror done right, and the kind of genre film we desperately need right about now.

Source: JoBlo.com



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