Movie: The Wailing (2016)

Some may think it is strange watching folk horror from Asian cultures but, let’s face it, their old spirits are a hell of a lot older than the UK or Europe’s gods.

South Korea’s The Wailing centers on a rural policeman (played by Kwak Do-won) investigating a bizarre series of murders committed by otherwise unremarkable people, albeit they are covered in boils.  Wisely, the audience only knows at any point what our protagonist knows, as his investigation soon goes beyond what is covered in officer training.  Is it a disease?  Is it possession? Is it a vampire? Does it have anything to do with the appearance of a mysterious Japanese fisherman? 

The movie explores these and other possibilities, while occasionally wandering down various tangents and leading us on with a few red herrings.  Do-won’s need to resolve the case escalates when his daughter starts to show the same symptoms the others had.

There’s a lot to like here.  The characters are all interesting, and the performances are solid.  There aren’t any real scares to be found, but there is a genuinely creepy vibe at some points.  Much to my surprise, there’s also a fair amount of humor, such as one character learning the hard way that you shouldn’t wish anybody be struck by lightning.

One of the scenes I found most interesting has a girl hurling rocks at two detectives conversing several yards away.  At first, I thought this was just quirky and odd, though it did slowly take on a tinge of menace.  I was wondering whether this girl was mentally impaired in some way, or if this is something not quite human and doesn’t understand how to communicate properly. 

Something I liked a lot about this picture is how accessible I found it while it still maintained so many elements distinctive to its culture.  There’s a lengthy ceremony performed by a shaman which I found intriguing, as somebody who has not been to South Korea.  If I wanted to see a Catholic priest do an exorcism, I’d just watch The Exorcist or any of the myriad copycats it spawned.

Unfortunately, an aspect of The Wailing which it shares with many other Asian horror movies I have seen recently is it is 2 ½ hours long.  This movie uses that time better than some of the others I have seen; however, that is still about a half-hour longer than I felt it needed. 

The Wailing is very good folk horror, regardless of the culture represented.  That it gives some insight into religions and customs of South Korea is another reason for the unfamiliar to give it a watch.

Dir: Na-hong jin

Starring: Kwak Do-Won, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim

Watched on blu-ray