THE WAILING **** South Korea 2016 Dir: Hong-jin Na. 149 mins
Although excessively long, like its director’s well regarded THE CHASER and THE YELLOW SEA, this is a beguiling and richly atmospheric picture. Adulterous, pudgy detective Do Won Kwak (a marvellously unfashionable hero) investigates a series of deaths in his small South Korean fishing village, seemingly linked to a recently arrived elderly Japanese man.
Terrified villagers suggest he might be (among other things) a diaper-wearing, cannibalistic ghost / rapist, while Kwak’s pubescent daughter seems to be the latest victim of the inexplicable wave of hysteria and violent behaviour. An obvious debt is owed to THE EXORCIST in the physical and mental decline of Kwak’s afflicted daughter (complete with profanity and unpleasant mood swings), though THE WAILING lures us through a series of striking tonal shifts while capturing a rich sense of encroaching evil as it builds to moments of true alarm. In contrast to the filmmaker’s punishingly brutal earlier work, it’s largely restrained, and has detours into surrealism, character humour and even a left-field interlude that plays out like a tribute to post-RE-ANIMATOR American splatter movies of the 80’s. Some of it is over-indulgent, but it’s beautifully made, infused with dread and never loses sight of its central, poignant human story.
Review by Steven West