The Wailing (2016) | This South Korean occult thriller is a ponderous and confusing challenge
‘If he really is a ghost… then I won’t be able to kill him’
Out of his depth police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) investigates a spate of bizarre killings and outbreak of madness seemingly connected to the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man who lives in the outskirts of a remote mountain village. What’s more, Jong-goo is horrified to discover his young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), may have fallen under the stranger’s curse. This prompts him to call on a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) to free his daughter, but the shaman’s intense exorcism ritual ends up worsening the situation, and forces Jong-goo into confronting the malevolent evil himself.
Breaking box office records in South Korea, and winning Best Film of the Focus Asian Selection and Best Cinematography at the 49th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, The Wailing from Na Hong-jin fuses a detective story with Exorcist-styled chills to create an unsettling occult thriller that takes full advantage of the country’s majestic rain-drenched mountain terrain – but! and here’s the ‘But!’… it’s painfully ponderous, and in desperate need of an editors’ eye and some action.
Imagine a modern take on a Kabuki show where every character screams over and over, but very, very slowly. Yes, there are some exciting set pieces (some are funny, others downright scary), but by dwelling on the internal drama of the main characters (who are all excellent by the way, especially Kwak as the corpulent, incompetent cop and Kim as his possessed daughter), the film moves at a snail’s place, which only makes its two hour plus running length feel even longer. It also does a disservice to the film’s best scene – an exorcism that feels frighteningly authentic.
The Wailing is out in UK cinemas and On Demand from 25 November