The Wailing (Goksung) (2016)
Critic Consensus: The Wailing delivers an atmospheric, cleverly constructed mystery whose supernatural thrills more than justify its imposing length.
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Critic Reviews for The Wailing (Goksung)
A stupendously entertaining movie, crammed with delights.
The film justifies its epic length, meshing ancient east Asian mythology and rituals with more recognizable horror tropes in a way that feels novel and unpredictable.
Despite its epic length, The Wailing never bores as Na slathers his tale with generous supplies of atmosphere and awfulness.
Audience Reviews for The Wailing (Goksung)
My love of South Korean films really started as an extension of my love for Japanese movies. I discovered Takashi Miike's works around 2005 and I consumed as much of his work as I could. I own, at the very least, 7 of his movies on DVD. I honestly don't keep track. It could be more than that though, it's not more than 10, I'm fairly certain of that. The point is that my exposure to Miike at 17 years old opened me up to a whole new world of cinema that I had not discovered yet. 2005 was also the same year that I bought Oldboy, my favorite movie of all time, on DVD. And that started me off on the road to my attempt to watch every South Korean movie ever made. That's obviously hyperbolic, as there are so many films released there that don't even get any release over here that it's gonna be impossible for me to do so. But I've reviewed over 100+ South Korean films on here, and it's probably even more than that, 100 is just a conservative guess. There are films I've that aren't available to review here, so there's also that. As much as I love the culture and the films, there's things about some South Korean movies that I absolutely loathe. Like the usage of melodrama and hysterics. Loudly weeping. Shit like that. But it's also worth mentioning that some of my favorite movies of all time are South Korean. And this is why I say this, without any sort of sarcasm or anything like that, this is unlike any SK movie I've ever seen. It's also one of the few movies that left me, legitimately, stumped for words as to how I would actually start this review. Which is why I went on that little tangent on the origin of my fondness for this country and the films they produce. When I say that this movie stumped me or that it's unlike anything I've ever seen, I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Because, you know, that I thought this was a completely phenomenal movie. One of the best South Korean movies I've seen in a while, that's how phenomenal it is. I don't know whether this movie can be described as a horror movie, but it definitely shares a lot of horror themes. But the fact of the matter is that it's not just a horror movie, it's so many things at once, yet it's not a movie that's too ambitious for its own good that it can't possibly live up to its own standards. Like I can see how some people thought Swiss Army Man's ambition and surreal elements ended up hurting the movie, but you don't get that sense here. The film does feature several genres at once, but it's all in service of the greater story. There's no tangents or irrelevant subplots at play here. Because of that, the film maintains tight focus on how its endgame is gonna play out. That's not saying that there aren't flaws, because there are. But I have to give credit where it's due and the film, as complex as it is in weaving its mysterious tale as to what is causing the people in this small mountain village to get an infection that turns them into zombie-like creatures that kill, or attempt to kill, everything in sight. Don't misunderstand me, this is NOT a zombie movie. Not in the slightest. In fact, the scenes that you get to see some of the villagers actually attempting to attack someone else add up to less than 10% of the entire movie. So for you zombie detractors out there, this is NOT a zombie movie and you don't have to worry about that. In all honesty, if the film relied just on that aspect and not of the mystery of who the Japanese man is and what exactly he's up to would have been negated. I like the fact that, realistically speaking, the murders in the village occur around the main narrative of figuring out who this Japanese man is and what his intentions may be. The murders themselves aren't even the main focus of the story. There's also this mysterious woman that our protagonist meets and figuring out how she plays into what is going is also a point of intrigue. Things become complicated for our lead character, when it is found out that his daughter is showing the symptoms of the same virus that's been ravaging the village. This is where he's really drawn into attempting to find out the mystery behind the man. I like how the film gets to this point, because the first part of it, involving the murders and the investigations behind them, the Japanese man and what he is or isn't, whether he's a ghost or a demon, are really played off as just rumors. In a small village, things like this are bound to happen, the cop thinks, so he sort of shrugs it off as baseless rumors. Naturally speaking, when his daughter starts showing the same symptoms. She's quick to anger and irrational, has a rash all over her body, our protagonist reacts like every other father would. Despite how irrational it may be, he must get to the bottom of this and make the Japanese man pay for what he's done to his daughter. He even brings in a shaman to perform an exorcism and cast a hex on the Japanese man to make sure that his daughter's infection is removed. It obviously doesn't work out that way, so he finds a mob and decides to go after the man and kill him. At least that's what I thought the plan was, maybe he just wanted the Japanese man to stop the 'curse', or whatever you want to call it, that he put on his daughter. I think the second part of the film is where the film will see its most detractors. Some will say that there's no reason that the movie should be as long as it is. And I can completely understand that, even if I disagree with it. Maybe it shouldn't have been as long as it was, but I think it used that time to build one of the most atmospheric movies I've seen in a while. There's an uneasy feeling underscoring pretty much every scene in the movie. There's a dread that you feel that things, inevitably, are gonna get much, much worse than they already are. And the film made great use of that atmosphere, which is part of why I loved this film so much. I don't think I've ever felt this much dread watching a movie in a long ass time. And that's rare for me. Obviously, it's not like I was watching through my fingers, I'm not that naive, but there's some legitimately chilling and creepy scenes here. The film is scary not because they call attention to anything in specific, but because of the exact opposite. They're so subtle about it and that's what gives the atmosphere its strength. The film is exceptionally written because it manages to keep you guessing right until the very end. There's so many unreliable characters here that it's impossible to know who's telling the truth and who's lying out their ass. Which is why you can sense the desperation in the climactic act from the main character. He does not know who to trust and, instinctively, he goes with his gut feeling. Whether following his gut feeling ended up helping or not is for you to figure out, since that would be spoiling too much. The acting is pretty much excellent all around and, technically speaking, this is top-notch work on pretty much every level. I believe that among the other complaints the film will have is the fact that there are no legitimate answers to everything that's going on. And, again, I get it even though I disagree with it. Bu the difference is that this is still a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. It's not a movie that refuses to give you an ending, it gives you one. Is the ending all that clear? No, but that's because the movie actually wants you to view it more than once. It wants you to use the knowledge you gained on your first viewings to pick up on smaller details that you may have not noticed the first time around. They treat their audience as intelligent beings. It's not a movie that's purposely confusing because they couldn't actually be bothered to come up with an ending. I really don't know what else to say about this that I haven't already. I fucking loved this movie. It's not gonna win everybody over, but it is gonna inspire some heated discussions. Or at least I hope it does. I'm looking forward to a second viewing.
Undoubtedly, objectively, you can look back on 2016 and point out that it is one of the best years for horror films in the past several decades. I feel a bit robbed that I didn't get a chance to see "The Wailing" in theaters. Granted, it was a limited release for this South Korean gem, but I hadn't any idea it existed until a few weeks ago. Equal parts mystical horror and zombie gore, the film wastes none of it's two and a half hours on clunky exposition or pointless character building. The first thirty minutes focus on some inept cops bumbling their way through an X-File's episode of odd occurrences. By the end of the first act, the silliness completely abates, and the true horror starts. There are scenes where just the sets are horrifying enough in their implications. The real meat of the horror is during cacophonous dark magic rituals that bring to mind "Baraka" mixed with "Baskin". Unlike the aforementioned Turkish horror film from earlier this year, "The Wailing" never devolves into torture porn, and the mystery deepens as twist after twist shifts the ambiguous protagonists into higher stakes situations and more emotional wretchedness. Perhaps the creepiest thing about the film is the city meets country atmosphere that always seems to be on the verge of dusk with evil spirits lurking underneath each storm cloud. There are some scenes that could have been shortened or strange unrealistic choices from the characters on occasion, but all in all Hong Jin-na has made an excellently scary film that has put many of his American contemporaries to shame, even considering how high the bar was already set.
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