If you only have a couple of hours spare to watch a film, then save The Wailing until later. You’ll need over two and a half hours to get through this, and perhaps another hour afterwards to digest it all.
The Wailing is a South-Korean horror film set in a remote village where the locals are beset with a strange illness that sends its residents into murderous frenzies before becoming catatonic and eventually dying.
Our protagonist is local cop Jong-goo, played by Kwak Do-won, who has to solve the murders whilst also find a cure for his apparently infected young daughter.
I use the term protagonist over ‘hero’, as at times you won’t find yourself rooting for Jong-goo to succeed.
The film has a strong undercurrent of racism and xenophobia running through it, and sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish which side of the argument our lead characters are on.
As Jong-goo’s daughter begins to show signs of the infection, he becomes increasing desperate to solve the case, including taking up the services of a local shaman, chasing a suspected ghost woman around abandoned houses, and harassing a nearby Japanese stranger living in the woods.
The Wailing is definitely atmospheric and weaves a gripping story with more twists and turns than Jared’s labyrinth, but if you’re looking for j-horror types scares, you may be disappointed.
That’s not to say that The Wailing is not a good film; it is. It’s just that it’s not a great horror film.
The ongoing whodunit story and racial tensions steer it more down the road of a thriller or drama than horror, and the mix bag of zombie infection/demon possession further dilutes the strength of any lasting horror vibes.
One thing it does very well is include that mix of drama and comedy that Korean films have a reputation for. The scene with Jong-goo and his companions trying to fend off an infected local bounces between gruesome and hilarious several times and is frankly, a one of the best scenes in the whole film.
I would definitely recommend giving The Wailing a watch, just don’t expect to be kept up late at night afterwards.