Forget about what you expect going into Na Hong-jin’s extraordinary The Wailing, a shape-shifter of a film, part detective story, part mystery, part thriller, part horror, part God only knows what. South Korean cinema gets a fairly bright pin on the map of international movies of 2016, The Wailing sets up the strange tale without any quibbles, and soon your mind is soaring through spiritual goings-on and physical ailments, hinting heavily on evil possession. What lies beneath, or even full-on at the surface, is a story about human beings struggling to come to terms with the outbreak – at the center the local policeman Jong-goo, who is going through a transformation himself, a rain-soaked, bemused law enforcer soon becomes a father frantic and hysterical as a result of the traumatizing events.
Na Hong-jin is feeding the audience psyche with this unexpected roller-coaster, The Wailing is only his third feature film, but you hardly know it, constructing a well shot and edited picture. Like the characters in the movie, you may get a bit lost at times, which is par for the course, and not once are you far from impressed. The enigmatic woman and local hunter provide sources of info for our detectives, but also plant suspects in your head – you are forced to keep guessing who is causing the ailments, all the while holding onto a linear pathway to which this may all make sense in the end. That I won’t give away, not intentionally anyway, The Wailing, even with its absurd moments (like the vivid sequence of a shaman’s ritual to help the afflicted), deserves you to see it for yourself.
Whatever your tastes in the year of yet more spoon-fed formulas and commercialism, The Wailing (aptly titled at times, you’ll see), doesn’t have to be your kind of thing to engross you. Hong-jin writes and directs with a real twisted passion, and the whole affair is merged together so well in all its varied mood swings and visual splendors. There’s emotion too, if that is what you are looking for, the acting is bold, and affecting. In particular Kwak Do-won as the policeman who seemingly unravels with the horrors around him, and youngster Kim Hwan-heeIl-gwang who plays his daughter – giving Linda Blair a run for her money in the body-take-over outbursts. Their astonishing scenes together might well send shivers down your spine, even if the movie overall doesn’t rock your world in the end.