THE WAILING (Na Hong-jin). 156 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (June 3). See listing. Rating: NNNNNDropping into theatrical release in Toronto.
THE WAILING (Na Hong-jin). 156 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (June 3). See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Dropping into theatrical release in Toronto just weeks after playing Cannes, Na Hong-jins The Wailing is a genre work as ambitious as they come. A fusion of police procedurals and social drama with an undertow of bone-deep horror, its the kind of cinematic experience that drapes itself over you while you watch you can feel its weight on you the next day.
Set in the rural community of Goksung (which is also the films Korean-language title), The Wailing traps us with a group of entirely ordinary people grappling with a force they cant fully understand. Something is driving their friends and neighbours to murder one another in a particularly brutal manner but to what end? And in a culture steeped in legends of curses, what have they done to deserve it?
Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-Won, The Man From Nowhere, The Berlin File) is a policeman who finds himself on the periphery of the plague, constantly wandering into crime scenes drenched in staggering quantities of blood and viscera. (The Wailing isnt a splatter film, but its unsparing in its depiction of carnage.)
The slaughters are united by the curious fact that each killer is found in a sort of fugue state, uncomprehending and incomprehensible. If this were a zombie movie, these people would instantly be recognized as zombies.
But Na isnt making a zombie movie. Hes doing something else, something were slowly led to understand over the course of The Wailings two and a half hours. Its long, but you wont feel it. The slow, inexorable build is essential and Nas feel for pacing is flawless as the death toll mounts and Jong-Goo and his colleagues toss around theories for what might be at the heart of the plague.Ultimately they conclude that the murders must have something to do with the recent arrival of an older Japanese man (Auditions Jun Kunimura).
Making things even more interesting is the fact that Jong-Goo is not being especially perceptive or brave hes easily spooked and entirely content to slouch through his duties as a policeman and as a father, doing the bare minimum required. Na doesnt frame him as The Wailings flawed hero: he may not be a hero at all, just a guy in over his head.
Na, on the other hand, is entirely in his element. With his earlier films, The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, he demonstrated a feel for intelligent, commercial work that digs into familiar narratives. Here, hes using the last two decades of Asian horror as his starting point, referencing Bong Joon-hos Memories Of Murder and The Host and Kiyoshi Kurosawas little seen but utterly unnerving 1997 thriller Cure but spinning off in a direction all his own.
You know how sometimes a movie comes out of nowhere and becomes an unstoppable force? The Wailing is one of those movies. Go see it.