The Wailing (Goksung) (2016)
December 18, 2016 8:08 AM - Subscribe

The quiet mountain village of Goksung is plagued by outbreaks of violence. Suspects include: a foreigner, a ghost, a rash, and bad mushrooms. Jong-goo — an affable, bumbling cop — must solve the mysteries to save his own family. Directed by Na Hang-jin (of The Chaser and The Yellow Sea). Run time: 2h 36m.

Currently 98%/83% Rotten Tomatoes and available on Netflix streaming.

South Korean thriller 'The Wailing' a slow-burning supernatural freakout - Justin Chang, LA Times

'The Wailing' Will Scare You, and Break Your Heart - Glenn Kenny, NYT
posted by fleacircus (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I saw a preview for this on the new Phantasm re-release (don't bother; aside from some brief weird "Tall Man is a chick?" moments Phantasm has almost no redeeming qualities and is far worse than your teen self remembers) and was wondering if it was worth it. Justin Chang is one of my fave critics (along with Joe Morgenstern of the WSJ), so that's a good sign, but what did you think, fleacircus?
posted by mediareport at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I liked this movie but there got to a point where it wasn't so much scary or giving me a sense of dread, but simply loud... and I hate to sound ignorant, but this is a thing I've noticed specifically in certain Japanese and Korean films, I guess? Where the film's volume and really grating sounds, like screaming or banging noises = a signifier of anguish or violence, but for me it pulls me out of the story completely. I actually felt bad for the rest of the people in my house that weren't watching along with me and felt compelled to turn the volume down. When I say it was loud, I guess just imagine like an atonal drum circle scene going on for easily 17 minutes without a break. I'm spitballing here but it felt even longer than that, but I don't want to spoil the scene for you, mediareport. :)

If that doesn't seem like a long time to you, imagine a child screaming in pain for that long and hoping nobody comes running into the room asking what the hell you're watching. I felt pretty cringey, like distracting levels of second-hand embarrassment. I wonder if anyone else was put off by the sound editing?

Then again, it's literally called The Wailing so I don't know what I expected to happen, exactly. I got the feeling it might be a slightly humorous or weird take on a more common trope, kind of like The Host but done with a zombie story, and it WAS good. But not quite what I expected, or hoped. And I've watched every WTF horror movie you can stream on literally every service from Let Us Prey to Deathgasm and been mostly happy with them! (They Look Like People is one recent favorite I stumbled across when working from home one day.)

Unsurprisingly, the beginning of the film and ending were very compelling, but it meandered quite a bit 3/4 of the way through. It's very long, obviously. If it were a half-hour shorter I'd have enjoyed it more.

I liked it but would be very, very hesitant to recommend it to anyone who wasn't already enamored of horror, and more specifically familiar with Korean or Japanese horror tropes (especially those involving ghosts and curses). Then again, I really enjoyed the main character's development and seeing little slice-of-life scenes with the townspeople. And I'm always entertained by small children cursing! Afterwards I was a bit stymied by the 5-star rating it had online, though. Maybe more like 3 out 5?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:20 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, it didn't make me go NO NO NO THIS IS NOT ALLOWED IN MOVIES like The Chaser did (or Spoorloos for that matter).

I am not sure if I'd call it scary. It's a little heartbreaking but not quite as cruel as some other movies. The way I described it to my SO is that The Chaser felt like a deliberate stab in the back, but The Wailing was more like an impulsive stab in the arm.

On a thematic level, I guess the film is like a tour through the problem of evil. What is causing the evil murders in the village? What can be done to stop it? The film's answers aren't optimistic. You'll never know, and the more you try to know, the more acute will be your ignorance. If you try to act, you'll be doing so on bad knowledge. You'll make an idiot of yourself, or even do more evil in the process. And because there's evil in the world, you can't just be a happy harmless fool; at some point evil will get your attention.

So it's a more thoughtful movie, and less of a Lucy van Pelt style football yank than some other movies. The main character being a kind of incompetent lovable cop I think sets it all up perfectly. Out of the gate, he's a fool set up to stand against evil. I think maybe Na Hong-jin's other movies are more painful because the main characters seem like they should overcome their problems, so it hurts more unfairly when they fail. But Jong-goo is pretty much Charlie Brown, and we know the only footballs he's ever kicked have been by dumb luck.

There is one little scene near the end that is sort of like a "fuck you" to even the audience's hope of understanding, and I think in a way it almost ruins the movie. But the rest is good and engrossing. I think the reviews above do a good job of selling the good side.

When the credits rolled I didn't think the movie was worth seeing, but after a day of thinking about it I decided it really was. That's pretty good for a Na Hong-jin movie? I'm still not sure The Chaser should even exist.
posted by fleacircus at 9:35 PM on December 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thanks, y'all; those comments were really helpful (seeing a few too many bad horror movies in a row has me wary). I'll bow out now so you can talk spoilers :)
posted by mediareport at 9:36 AM on December 19, 2016

Sorry if I dipped into spoilers. The shorter version of what I said was, it's both a good horror movie but also not a horror movie. It's a "Na Hong-jin movie". And those are very good, but... not known for their glorious happy endings.
posted by fleacircus at 2:47 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're good; I didn't think you spoiled anything and appreciated your thoughtful take, not least because it added Na Hong-jin to my list of directors to check out.

It is an odd balance to strike in posts here about newly released movies - knowing some folks are checking the threads to see if the film is worth paying for, but others want to discuss all the twists and turns without worrying about spoilers - but I think y'all struck it well.

(Now I'm really out, promise)
posted by mediareport at 4:40 PM on December 19, 2016

Yeah, fleacircus, that's really a great review.

Honestly, the film reminds me of when you eat something for the first time that's close to something you like, but then when you swallow you're like EW and then find yourself craving it a week later.

It's a very thoughtful take on the horror of one cop trying to save his hometown from evil, especially when it's his own child that's possibly possessed. The problem of her being sick or poisoned is much easier to solve than a supernatural issue, but then the question becomes: Well if this evil spirit's in town, are the actions in any way justified? Are they avoidable? Or is the random nature of suffering what gives the idea of evil such power over us? Despair is such a final emotion, and it really knocks the wind out of vengeance's sails.

Lack of control isn't my biggest fear, but giving someone else control over me whom I cannot trust definitely is -- though I can see how the former is highly problematic for both parents and duly appointed authority figures, especially within the context of certain cultures.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:13 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

My two favorite scenes are with the woman in white. The first is when she is throwing rocks to try to get Jong-goo to notice her, which is sort of hilarious at the time and chilling in retrospect. The second is the scene near the end when she is telling Jong-goo to wait for the third crow of the rooster, which is sort of like a ghost story or fairy tale thing, except... the stuff she's saying doesn't make sense and her promises are impossible. I almost think they should have ended it on that scene.
posted by fleacircus at 7:43 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed this movie partially BECAUSE I was so often confused. Everytime I thought I had a handle on it, something would shift and suddenly I would be like "Wait...uh...I'm confused again." And I enjoyed that because it mirrors the difficulty of Jong-goo trying to help his daughter and not knowing how and that frustration leading to violence. I also like that doesn't make sense, as Jong-goo points out to the woman in white. His daughter got sick FIRST so how can she be punished for a sin he hadn't committed yet?

I almost wish there hadn't been the demonic reveal in the mountains, but simply left on the man taking the priest's photo and cutting away from that scene permanently after that leaving it open to what his "true form" was. But I did like him saying that whether he chose to leave or not was the priest's choice. Once you witness that kind of evil in person, once you KNOW it exists, what do you do? What do you choose? It's a very intriguing question.

So I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely watch it again.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:39 PM on December 21, 2016

Wow, what a weird movie, I am so mad that I am more than a year late to the discussion.

I really don’t actually know how to parse a lot of this movie. It’s not a straight horror movie, but it has scenes that are pure nightmare fuel. And most of those are not the ones that are framed as pure horror. (A father lifts his daughter’s skirts to check for signs of corruption. And you are not quite sure enough of the intentions of the filmmaker to know just how horrifying that is meant to be).

I didn’t quite enjoy it. I found the bumbling, idiot, protagonist unsympathetic. After a point I found him downright sinister. And I am also confused about the politics and implied attitudes around the Japanese Man. Because the movie seemed to expend a lot of capital towards a one interpretation only to backtrack and then backtrack again.

But hell I can’t stop thinking about it so maybe that’s a successful horror movie.
posted by arha at 6:36 AM on March 27, 2018

And fleacircus, there is an even more depressing answer to the evil in The Wailing. It’s not that we will never know, it’s that we (individualy) ourselves are causing it without knowing it just by bumbling about and reacting to shit. Which is both more profound and more irritating than I think the movie itself is worth.
posted by arha at 6:50 AM on March 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Look, I'm only halfway in, and nowhere near ready to give a complete review. But can I just say that Hyo-Jin, the angry ten year-old who thinks everyone should just fuck off forever is almost disturbingly relatable?


It's been a rough month.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am also confused about the politics and implied attitudes around the Japanese Man

I could be super wrong about the filmmaker's politics, because I'm only going by the content of movies (as I can recall them with my addled wits). But another of his movies Yellow Sea seemed sympathetic (or angry) to the cruelty inflicted on immigrants and migrant workers. But these movies don't show a nice hopeful world?

In this one I think your second comment is on the mark that they are creating the evil. The film is not trying to set up consistency, there isn't really a through line of what is 'really' what. For there to be a mystic cure there has to be a mystic evil, for there to be a redeeming God there has to be shit that needs to be redeemed.

Again I could be wrong, he could be a racist jerk, IDK.
posted by fleacircus at 3:24 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Admittedly, Hyo-Jin seems less relatable after stabbing her family to death.

But if this were a more popular movie, I guarantee you the scenes of her telling everyone to fuck off would be widely used memes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:40 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I finally watched this one last week. The film is quite beautiful, and a lot of the horror is truly horrifying, especially at the beginning. Thinking back on it, it feels like the director was trying to take a crack at various aspects of social commentary that horror is quite good at; xenophobia via the Japanese Man, religious cruelty through the shaman and the deacon, child abuse through the corruption narrative noted above. It fell away from actually making those arguments though, and seemed to meander.

I'm a fan of open endings where interpretation isn't just handed to the viewer, but this one felt soooo wide open as to be uninterpretable. It drew links between the woman in white and the Japanese Man, between the Japanese Man and the shaman, between the shaman and the woman, but left them too broad and confusing. I ultimately couldn't parse what the ending was intending to convey.
posted by Existential Dread at 5:57 PM on March 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

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