Monday Morning Movie Review: The Wailing (2016)

Lately I’ve been watching quite a few foreign-language flicks, some good, some disturbing.  The latest, the 2016 Korean film The Wailing, falls somewhere in the middle.

The plot of the film involves a mysterious illness or curse that enters a remote Korean mountain village when a Japanese tourist arrives to town.  The malady causes victims to develop glowing red eyes and dark skin, as well as odd contortions of their bodies.  Ultimately, sufferers kill their entire families.

It is near the beginning of this curse that Officer Gong-joo witnesses a naked, wild-eyed woman banging on the doors of his police substation during a thunderstorm.  Gong-joo and his partner hide behind their desks, debating about who will check on the naked woman, but the woman has fled by the time they muster the courage to investigate.  At a crime scene a short time later, they find the woman, along with her family, dead or raving violently at their burned out home.

It is established early on that Officer Gong-joo is a pitiful loser, but he loves his daughter, Hyo-jin, a predictably adorable little Korean girl.  Gong-joo cheats on his wife, shirks work responsibility, and is the laughingstock of his police precinct.  He is a coward and an utter failure, but he is—in spite of it all—a good father.

When his beloved daughter comes down with the strange curse, he has the opportunity to prove his courage.

The film follows Gong-joo’s efforts to curse his daughter’s affliction, from confronting the Japanese man—who stares listlessly as Gong-joo kills the man’s dog and destroys a wicked shrine—to consulting with a Korean exorcist.  There are a lot of crows and thunderstorms, and a lot of yelling in Korean.

That said, the film might not be for everyone.  I enjoyed the ride, but as with any foreign-language film, it requires a good bit of attention, and as a horror movie, it requires even more attention, as the devil is in the details.  Korean is a language that, I’m discovering, is both shrill and guttural, so when a bunch of Koreans start shouting hysterically, it’s extremely grating (I’ve discovered this watching German-language films, too).  Just as there are murders and murders of crows in this film, there is a eardrum-murdering decibels of Korean wailing (thus the name, I suppose).

Also, this move is long.  Clocking in at a whopping 156 minutes of run-time—the equivalent of a major Marvel release—it’s a lot of reading subtitles and enduring teeth-gnashing.  The ending is not a happy one for our protagonist, either, so depending on your disposition, it might not be worth your time.

For a look at folk magic and demon possession in rural South Korea, it’s an interesting and spooky film.  The meandering, twisting story, however, could have been told much more effectively in a crisp ninety minutes, and the impact would have been greater.  The character of Gong-joo does seem to grow as a father, but all of his attempts to save his family from this supernatural affliction are for not.

Of course, a more sophisticated, tolerant viewer might appreciate the film for the reasons I have disliked it.  The film is very well-shot, and it sets up its scary tableaux well.  It’s just too long and chaotic for my tastes.

7 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: The Wailing (2016)

  1. I have a well-loved friend ‘across the pond’ who has discovered old Japanese movies and loves them. I have discovered, on Netflix, an Israeli ‘soap opera’, Shtisel, that I’m absolutely hooked on. The series is in Hebrew and Yiddish with English subtitles. The story follows an Orthodox family. It tickles me that the humor comes across even through subtitles. I love the title character – who is quite a character!

    I’ve never been a fan of foreign films – or tv shows, for that matter – but perhaps my horizons are broadening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do remember you recommending Shtisel. I’ll have to check it out!

      I have enjoyed these foreign-language films, but this one was difficult to get through, I think because it was so long. 156 minutes is a long time to put up with subtitles _and_ Korean men crying. The subject matter of the film was interesting and scary, but it dragged on for about an hour too long for me.

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      • I’m afraid that when I think of Japanese (or any Asian) films, I think of the old ‘horror’ movies – Godzilla stands out in my mind, lol. Remember the original martial arts films with all the grunts, lol. Can’t do it. Just thinking about it makes me laugh.

        I applaud your perseverance in watching the entire movie but I’m afraid I’m going to have miss it. No – I’m gleeful that I won’t be watching it, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I don’t blame you for passing this one up, Audre. I feel like I haven’t been generous enough to the film, and it is quite critically-acclaimed (then again, that usually means a movie is garbage), but there’s no way I’m going to watch it again. It’s just too dang long, and life is too short.

        I think it’s time to watch _Bicentennial Man_! I am planning on watching it again and reviewing it, based on your recommendation.

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      • I have a friend in the UK who is a gamer but also into horror movies. He did an article on a gamer blog, Going Postal, about a movie – parts 1 and 2 – called Dead Snow. LOL! Suffice it to say he was not a fan. But if your nosing about on YouTube or any of the services (Netflix, Hulu, etc), you may want to abuse yourself even more and review those movies, too.

        Excited to read your review of Bicentennial Man.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would love to “abuse” myself with more schlocky horror flicks. I’m considering subscribing to Shudder so I can drench myself in bad horror movies.

        Yes! Just gotta find time to watch it this week, which I’m sure I will be able to do.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m laughing – I can’t wait til you have time to see Dead Snow, lol! I may have to bring a beverage and popcorn, lol!

        Shudder, huh? I think I’ve heard of that but I’ll look it up.

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