The Wailing review: A truly unnerving, frightening slow-burning horror from South Korea.
The Wailing review from the Cannes Film Festival, 2016.
Fresh from a solid bow in its domestic territory, the south Korean, 20th Century Fox backed The Wailing (Gokseong) makes it to Cannes where it plays out-of-competition.
The film, which can only be described as a supernatural, comedic crime film, revolves around a series of illnesses that have broken out in a remote village in Gokseong county in the south of South Korea. These strange illnesses, which see their victims contract a vicious skin condition, coupled with some really rather strange, violent behaviour, have only arrived after a stranger has entered town. It is now up to local police detective Jong-goo (Do Won Kwak) to investigate the outbreak, and after speaking with a mysterious young woman named Moo-myung, discovers that the illnesses may have more than a coincidental connection to the newcomer. As the investigation continues, Jong-goo’s only daughter suddenly contracts the disease, and he brings in local shaman Il-gwan (Jeong-min Hwang) to exorcise the demons in order to protect her while at the same time, also attempting unravel the truth behind the killer infection on the loose.
Hong-jin Na directs this really rather violent, deeply unnerving and bloody scary supernatural horror, which at a rather long 2 and a half hours will test even the most hardened fan of the genre. That said, it is captivating stuff, the viewer taken on quite the journey into a world where you really don’t quite know what is going to happen next, a feeling which continues right of the way up to its chilling, harrowing climax.
The Wailing’s frighteners don’t come from the loud, jumpy, jumpy BANG school of scares, but more from a deep, subtle uncomfortable kind of terror, not too dissimilar from Robert Eggers’ superb, and in fact similarly themed The Witch from last year’s London Film Festival. There is, of course, tons of gore too, but Hong-jin Na’s film has this absolutely terrifying foreboding running through the core of the film, one that doesn’t let up for the duration. Mixed with the occasional comedic incident, largely coming from the direction of the film’s brilliant, very watchable lead Do Won Kwak, and his brand of slight slapstick humour and comic timing, The Wailing is also an enjoyable watch, though one where you know you’re not far away from the next flurry of unnerving horror.
The visuals, score and editing are top-notch, and the make-up effects will rival any American production. Its set design is wonderful, from the rain-soaked mountain scenes to the dingy, blood-filled interiors. Like south Korea’s other big film here in Cannes this festival, The Handmaiden, a film which we also looked upon favourably, the visuals as a whole are an absolute feast.
We have a distinct feeling that in the commercial market place, it may need a little snipped from its over-long duration, but it really doesn’t hinder it. Definitely one of the most refreshing, most fear-inducing and extremely clever horror films that I’ve certainly seen in a long while.
The Wailing review at the Cannes Film Festival, 2016.
The Wailing is still awaiting a UK and US release date.