So, if you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I tend to have trouble watching foreign films because I hyper focus on reading the subtitles and miss out on things actually on screen. But, as they say, “practice makes perfect”. I’ve been trying to watch more foreign films to get better at splitting my attention between the subtitles and the images on screen, while still trying to take everything in, so as not to miss anything. The foreign films I have decided to practice with are obviously horror films because, come on. They tend to be some of the best. And, honestly, other countries know how to scare the shit out of people in a way that American films just never seem to do.
When turning on Na Hong-jin’s film The Wailing, honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I intentionally did not look up anything about the film, as I wanted to experience it fully. All I knew is that horror fans have raved about it since it came out four years ago. For those that have not seen the film or are not familiar with it, The Wailing is about a stranger who arrives in a little village. Shortly after this stranger arrives, a mysterious sickness begins to spread. A policeman, who is drawn into the incident by way of his job, has to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
But, folks, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The structure of this film reminded me of the structure of the film Parasite, in that during the whole film, you think it’s about one thing, or you think you know what direction the film is going. But, then the last thirty minutes happen, and everything has gone crazy and you don’t know which way is up. Honestly, it’s becoming one of my favorite film structures, as it’s the most fun.
The main character of The Wailing, Jong-goo, played by Do-wan Kwak, was endlessly frustrating to me, as he really seemed to not be able to do anything right. And, even in the end, he was unable to do the right thing. But, I suppose, in his defense, he didn’t know what was going on and he was being gaslighted from every corner.
Hwan-hee Km, who played Jong-goo’s daughter Hyo-jin, was, without a doubt, the best actor in the entire film. This little girl easily made the transition from a sweet daughter to a possessed monster. It’s absolutely incredible to watch. I don’t remember the last time I was that blown away with a child actor, honestly.
One thing this film did bring to light for me is that, in Korea, there is a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment. But, it’s a subject that becomes really clear, really quickly in the film. Honestly, I still don’t know how to feel about it.
Na Hong-jin did a remarkable job at capturing the beauty of the Korean landscape. I was amazed at the beauty of so many of the shots and it contrasted so well with the subject matter at hand.
Speaking of the subject, The Wailing does a tremendous job, as I stated before, of misdirection. Every time you think you know what may be going on or you think you know where the film is going, it takes an unpredictable turn. The perfect balance of lifelike mystery and the ungodly supernatural is something that most American directors only ever dream of achieving.
The Wailing is currently streaming on Shudder, which if you are a fan of horror films and you don’t have Shudder, what are you even doing? If you have Amazon Prime, you can rent the film, which I highly recommend doing. It’s a bit long, with a run time of 2 hours and 36 minutes, but the pay off is just so good.