Na Hong-jin’s first film in six years serves up a glimpse of intense evil over a disturbing clash of cultures.
In the new Korean horror film Gokseong (The Wailing), a ghost, a demon, a shaman, and a zombie-like viral infection have invaded a remote mountain village. But none of those things is the truly scary part.
Writer-director Na Hong-jin made an international splash in 2008 with his feature debut The Chaser, which he followed up in 2010 with The Yellow Sea; both films are dark thrillers involving lone, lost men caught up in events far beyond their control.
And on the surface, The Wailing — his third film — offers more of the same. Its Korean-language title refers to the name of the remote, isolated mountain region at the center of the plot, while its English-language title has far more to do with the biblical plague–esque wave of violence, death, and sickness that seems to strike the town out of nowhere.
A tense blend of genres, The Wailing succeeds at combining a mood of deep unease with visceral gore, buddy cop comedy, and a hallucinogenic mix of horror tropes — a recipe that yields, among other things, an atypical exorcism helmed by an intense Korean shaman. The film was a success at Cannes last month, and hype has been building ever since.
But there’s a lot happening in The Wailing — and despite its stylish ambiguity, the masterful direction, and the meaningless and random violence that gives this film its dark core, it never fully escapes the weeds of its own swamp of misery.
Here’s what’s good, bad, and weird about The Wailing.