Review : The Wailing / 곡성 (2016)

The Wailing, written and directed by Na-Hong Jin, was released in 2016. It was screened at the Cannes Festival the same year, out of competition, which helped the film gain interest from the public out of its country of origin.

Mysterious and gruesome murders take place in a peaceful, rural village. Jong-Goo, a family man and somewhat incompetent police officer, hears a growing rumor in the village, blaming a strange Japanese hermit for the violent deaths. Jong-Goo confronts the Japanese man but when his daughter starts showing the same symptoms as the victims prior to their demise, he has no choice but to call a shaman for help.

Trying to explain The Wailing is a very tedious task as it is a strange film, from its story to its narrative. This is a film which requires several viewings to grasp its entire scope. I did enjoy the film upon my first viewing but it left me confused and with a lot of questions. Unlike most thrillers, the more clues are discovered, the more confused you become. At times, I found The Wailing too strange for its own good. The film is also way too long and it hurts the pace. ; it could easily have been shortened by at least thirty minutes. The narrative is sometimes confusing and I found some parts of the film difficult to follow, especially in the first act. The tone changes rather quickly. There are humorous elements in the beginning but the film then becomes an intense horror drama.

The cinematography is especially beautiful and the performances are great. I especially appreciate how the director never shows the crimes being committed. We only get to witness the violent aftermath, rendering us as helpless as the main characters. The highlight of the film is, by far, the ceremony / invocation sequence : it is an editing masterpiece. Two characters are performing two different ceremonies which are edited together to deceive the viewer into misunderstanding a particular character’s role.

The Wailing is a dark, vicious tale which shows people’s inability to distinguish good from evil in the grimmest and strangest way. Hard to follow at times due to the wide range of spiritual references, from shamans to Christianity, The Wailing is not a film you watch, it is a film you experience. Though a shorter version would have been better, The Wailing will haunt you long after the credits roll.

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