곡성 | The Wailing (2016)
After catapulting himself into the league of South Korean cinema’s brightest up-n-coming filmmakers with his extremely polished & mercilessly violent debut feature and then following it up with another thriller that was more or less a misfire, director Na Hong-jin makes a splendid return to form after six years of inactivity, and delivers a cinema that’s drenched in blood, sickness & devilry.
The story of The Wailing unfolds in a small South Korean village where a mysterious illness begins to spread & claims many lives, following the arrival of a strange Japanese man in the nearby mountains. Investigating the case is a police officer who becomes all the more involved after his own daughter starts exhibiting similar symptoms, and enlists the help of a shaman to solve the mystery before its too late.
Written & directed by Na Hong-jin, The Wailing finds the budding filmmaker stepping into the realms of supernatural horror and features numerous elements that made his first film an instant classic. It is a considerable improvement over Hong-jin’s previous film, plus his direction exhibits more confidence & comfort this time. The script is just as impressive although it still could’ve used a bit more refinement.
The film doesn’t hold back on violence & gore and keeps the element of doubt alive until the very end. Also admirable is how successfully it manages to force its viewers to switch their allegiance from time to time and keeps them in the dark throughout its runtime. Humour is brilliantly utilised whenever it’s required but the tone is grim for the most part and only intensifies as the plot nears its conclusion.
The technical aspects are finely executed. The rural setting & isolated surroundings provide a big enough canvas for the horror to play out. Camerawork is expertly carried out, filming each n every moment in fine detail. Editing is definitely a highlight, given the unpredictable nature of its plot in addition to unforeseen twists n turns, and despite its 156 minutes runtime, it never feels tedious and is actually cleverly paced from beginning to end.
Coming to the performances, the entire cast chips in with apt contributions in their given roles and play their part responsibly. Kwak Do-won plays the police officer investigating the mystery illness & killings and although a comic relief at first, he wises up as the plot progresses. Hwang Jung-min is in as a shaman and chips in with a fine rendition. But the two most measured inputs come from Jun Kunimura & Chin Woo-hee who play the Japanese stranger & a mysterious woman respectively.
On an overall scale, The Wailing is a fresh, fascinating & ferocious entry in the world of horror that makes terrific use of its atmosphere & supernatural elements to deliver a thoroughly unsettling & consistently engaging experience. There are, however, times when it may leave you a little lost or unsure of what’s happening but the interest is never lost for once and only gains momentum as it heads towards its long-awaited finale. A work of mythic weirdness that’s diabolical in more ways than one, The Wailing comes highly recommended.