By Ryan Keating-Lambert
The Wailing is an epic horror tale by South Korean director Hong jin-Na with some truly disturbing imagery, and even has an element of Stephen King to it. But ultimately, it suffers from an identity crisis. It’s hard to know exactly what this movie is, and I’m not even sure if it knows itself.
The film follows jumpy police officer Jong-Goo (Do Wan Kwak) when he investigates a series of murders related to a strange virus that turns its hosts into brutally violent zombies… with seriously hideous skin rashes. Set in a small village outside of Seoul, the investigation intensifies when Goo’s daughter Hyo-jin (Hwan-hee Kim) becomes infected.
There was a lot at stake here for this movie. I’d heard great things about it and I also saw it on some favourite lists for 2016, along with Train to Busan – another South Korean zombie movie released this year. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this film. It was fantastic, in the beginning.
Related: Train to Busan review
The Wailing starts with a bang. Nothing is held back in either violence or humour with a playful zombie narrative in a brand new setting – the picturesque mountains of South Korea. Jong-Goo is a lovable character. A complete dork, but a smart dork who loves his family. Daughter Hyo-jin is also a great character and brilliantly played by Hwan-hee Kim. Her transition from sweet to batshit crazy is seamless and should be spoken about. She was truly terrifying.
The overall level of scary and discomfort in Wailing is off the chart in moments. The naked old man with red eyes running around the forest got me every time. There’s one particular scene when he crawls up over a rock right towards the camera, as if to reach out and grab you with his bloody fingernails – I had the sweats.
This unsettling mood can largely be attributed to the slick cinematography and the green filter over everything. There’s probably about a thousand different shades of green in this village and the lush surroundings, and it makes every drop of blood stand out like that girl in Schindler’s List. The production is just spot on, right down to the brutal shaman ceremonies.. I certainly hope those animals weren’t real.
BUT, the sudden changes of narrative and uncountable plot twists are just too much after a while. What starts off as a fun zombie movie with a few original scares and lovable characters soon becomes an over-the-top dramatic and frustrating psychological and supernatural thriller. Some of the shaman rituals and beliefs that obviously stem from South Korean culture are interesting, but ultimately lose their charm after too many plot twists. There are a number of bad guys in this movie and any of them could be the cause of the deadly virus.. but after a while I just wanted it to end. There must be so many different endings and cuts out there. Hopefully we’ll be treated to that on blu ray one day.
Definitely see this though. The final scene is haunting and it’s still stuck in my head.
Feature photo: YouTube