Film Review: The Wailing (2016)

The Clash of the Evils. A film review on ‘The Wailing’

Director: Hong-jin Na

A haunted/abandoned/isolated location, an evil figure, hopeless victims, dark lighting, and most of all, jump that scares every single minute. That, my friends, seems to be what a modern horror film is supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good ones out there as well, but simply because some are fine doesn’t mean the genre itself is doing well.

As always, several notable horror flicks emerged in box offices this year. James Wan returned with his solidly made “The Conjuring 2”, and Robert Eggers made his debut with the beautifully horrifying “The VVitch”. However, these aren’t the films that will be discussed in this review. On June 2016, the South Korean director Hong-Jin Na (The Yellow Sea, The Chaser) had returned with his fantasy-horror hybrid “The Wailing”, which in my opinion, is one of those modern horror films that deserves applause for its creative takes on the idea of ‘terror’.

What is evil? Does it have a form? Where does it originate from?


— There will be some spoilers from this point on, so… SPOILER WARNING —


“The Wailing” follows Jong-Goo (Do Won Kwak), a police officer who works in a small mountainous village of ‘Goksung’. As soon as the film starts, we are introduced to a series of mysterious infections and deaths that suddenly occurred after the arrival of a Stranger (Kunimura Jun). The locals are suspicious of him, and there are even rumors of him committing rapes and kidnaps. This leads the police to launch a forced investigation at his house, completely ruining the man’s privacy. Our protagonist was the officer in command during the operation. Following this incident, his daughter gets possessed, and he starts his struggle to bring his daughter back from the supposed devil, the Stranger.

That is a very brief summary of the film’s plot. Yes, it sounds like as if The Exorcist met one of the many detective films. However, Na, the director, achieves so many small things throughout the film, everything piles up into a true ‘horror’.

I believe this film can be an example of the few movies haunting enough without the use of a single jumpscare. The first half an hour even feels like a comedy cop film. However, through the careful editing, this film maintains a hauntingly melancholy mood throughout its duration. Well, because of the comedy elements, this mood feels a bit bright in the beginning, but the audience never feels a ‘sudden’ shift to something more serious. Everything occurs naturally, which builds up the tension, and at the final minutes of the film, the audience gets to find itself involved in one complicatedly intertwined emotional tension.

The invisible cinematic techniques are some key merits of this beautifully crafted piece. Some other merits include the various sources of terror that impact the audience. There is clearly a typical ‘demon’ present throughout the film. The stranger transforms into our good old red-skinned and yellow-eyed humanoid goat figure by the end of the movie, but his transformation is not as scary or shocking as other horror films might treat a scene like this. This chain of tragedy in Jong-Goo’s family occurred due to the villagers’ accusation of the stranger. The suspicion that lasted too long had lead to accusation and hatred. The so-called victims found an object to put all the blames onto, which lead to the possible outrage of the stranger that caused all this mayhem, followed by more aggressive actions from Jong-Goo.

“The Wailing” develops its plots mainly through these human relationships. How they fall into insanity in front of the origin-unknown fear is the main source of tension and horror. By the time the audience reaches the middle of the film, they completely forget about the devil’s activities, as they start to fear men over a supernatural being. Director Na intentionally makes the devil’s appearance vague to emphasize the fundamental evil that bursts out from deep inside our hearts.

Watching our fellow humans lose control and going mad drives the audience crazy as well. Without a single drop of blood or jump scare, the audience finds itself trembling in fear. That is true terror.

‘The Wailing’ is a gorgeous piece, and definitely, a new classic that deserves to be honored throughout the history of cinema.