The Wailing (2016)

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Na Hong-jin directs Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min and Chun Woo-hee in this Korean chiller about a uniform cop who begins to suspect his town is being possessed by something malevolent. 

I’m quite a fan of Korean cinema but nearly all of what we receive shares similar, repeated flaws; tonal inconsistency, animal cruelty, casual racism and punishing length. The Wailing, a movie with plenty going for it, seems weighed down by these hallmarks more than most. It is an Exorcist evoking chiller that has sequences that feel more in keeping with Shaun of the Dead. The lead a bumbling, loving father seems based on Homer Simpson rather than Father Merrin, likeable and sympathetic but not exactly subtle. We all know comedy and horror can make happy bedfellows, a punchline and a jump scare share the same DNA, but here we zig-zag disconcertingly from farce to full on fear in a blink of an eye. There is an intense scene of animal sacrifice, one that with its cross cutting and prolonged duration evokes Apocalypse Now’s finale. I’m not sure if the creatures in it were actually slaughtered but considering what happens to dogs, octopuses and the like in other Korean movies I doubt anyone batted an eyelid on set. This always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The movie plays with the racist idea that the immigrant Japanese man is responsible for the demonic epidemic spreading throughout the locality, merely as he is the sole foreigner. In a western movie you’d take this as a prejudice being set up to be lampooned but the movie plays this hand with a poker face. Na Hong-jin’s blistering The Yellow Sea had a similar inscrutable casual racism to it. Culturally, it seems only western countries are precious about openly distrusting the other, but the strong reviews of this movie from our countries rarely focus on it… and you suspect the same writers would throw an old Hollywood movie with similar sentiments under the bus. Why is what is now unacceptable when from a different era, overlooked when from another country? And then there’s that length. There’s plenty of bravura sequences – some of the shocks beggar narrative belief but are uniquely disturbing. But then there’s that farcical set-up that could easily be 30 minutes shorter. By the time you get to the suitably drawn out finale, wherein double bluffs are exposed and an agonising choice must be made, you like the protagonist are left exhausted, exasperated, confused and inert. That’s the director’s intention, but it is a frustratingly slow conclusion when you already have had your patience thoroughly tested. If you can break it up over a couple of days, The Wailing is a decent watch… but there’s just too much of everything for one satisfying sitting.

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