A world where histories, identities, cultures, realities and generic codes and conventions collapse in spectacular, unforgettable style.

Director Na Hong-jin creates the ultimate supernatural whodunnit, chucking everything except the kitchen sink at us to throw us off the scent of the whoever, or whatever is to blame. Na Hong-jin takes elements of zombies, black magic, ghosts, and possession stories, synthesizes these staid tropes in unique ways, and creates a visceral, moving film that is simultaneously hideous and exquisite, heart-breaking and horrifying. The Wailing is an astonishing film that manages to truly unnerve and entertain in equal measure. Maybe there are dozens of Korean films exploring religious horror and clashing traditional religions with the Catholic faith, but I’ve never seen them. And that set me up to be equal parts riveted and terrified. Na Hong-jin directs and pens an agonizing thriller, building the tension gradually as the story progresses, until the utterly shocking finale, which is, probably, the film’s greatest sequence. Whether taking on the form of a brutish action film or a religious-tinged psychological thriller, the skill and boldness of Na give “The Wailing” a consistency it likely wouldn’t have otherwise, eager to entertain even if it doesn’t entirely add up. The film stands out for being a singular work that has a great visual impact with masterful frames and an interesting use of color.

156 minutes of murder, diabolism, exorcism and things that go bump by day and night.

Kwak Do-won as Jong-goo, policeman and father of Hyo-Jin.
Hwang Jung-min as Il-gwang, a shaman hired to protect the village.
Chun Woo-hee as Moo-myung, the woman in white.
Jun Kunimura as a Japanese stranger.
Kim Hwan-hee as Hyo-jin, Jong-goo’s daughter

By turns funny and despairing, this village noir brings the horror of uncertainty.

After a Japanese man arrives at Gokseong, a small village in the mountains of South Korea, a mysterious infection breaks out and causes the villagers to become deranged and violently kill their families.

One night at the police station, officers Oh Seong-bok and Jong-goo are discussing the Japanese stranger when a naked woman appears in the rain. They later discover the woman, infected, was raped by the Japanese stranger and was spotted several times naked in different places, has murdered her family. At the crime scene, Jong-goo meets a mysterious young woman called Moo-myeong (“no name” in Korean), who tells him the Japanese man is a ghost and the culprit. Jong-goo steps outside to call Oh Seong-bok, and the woman vanishes, and he sees a very scary figure. A local hunter tells them he saw the stranger with glowing red eyes, eating raw venison in the forest.

Jong-goo has similar dreams about the stranger and decides to investigate with Oh Seong-bok. They enlist the help of Oh Seong-bok’s nephew, a Japanese-speaking deacon named Yang I-sam. They investigate the stranger’s house when he’s out and find pictures of the murdered villagers and their belongings, as well as a worship room. The stranger’s guard dog attacks them and stops when the stranger returns, so Jong-goo and his team leave. On the way back, Oh Seong-bok shows his partner a shoe that belongs to Jong-goo’s daughter, Hyo-jin. Hyo-jin grows sick, with symptoms similar to those of the other infected. Jong-goo returns to the stranger’s house, but finds the evidence has been burned. Infuriated, he smashes up the worship room, kills the guard dog, and orders the stranger to leave the village.

Jong-goo’s family discovers the bloody body of a dead goat hanging in front of their front gate the next day, and Hyo-jin later stabs and seriously injures a neighbor when the family had gone to treat Jong-goo, leaving her alone. Distraught about Hyo-jin’s violent behavior and change in health, Jong-goo’s mother-in-law seeks help from a shaman, Il-gwang. Il-gwang says a wicked spirit has possessed Hyo-jin. His exorcism fails. After learning Jong-goo disturbed the stranger, who he says is a demon, Il-gwang prepares a death-hex ritual and tells Jong-goo he must not be interrupted. At home, the stranger performs a ritual at the same time to seemingly possess the body of one of the dead victims, Park Choon-bae. Hyo-jin experiences excruciating pain as Il-gwang’s ritual progresses. Jong-goo stops the ritual and takes his daughter to the hospital instead. The stranger pulls himself into bed after his own ritual and sees Moo-myeong outside his house.

The following day, Jong-goo gathers his companions to hunt down the stranger. As they search his house, they are attacked by the now reanimated corpse of Park Choon-bae, who injures Yang I-sam and gives the stranger time to flee before convulsing and returning to his dead state. They pursue the stranger but lose him at a cliff. The stranger, hiding just out of view, sees Moo-myeong staring at him from afar. As the group drives back down the mountain, the stranger lands on the windshield. They dump his body off the cliff as Moo-myeong watches from above. Jong-goo returns to find Hyo-jin has seemingly improved.

Il-gwang drives to Jong-goo’s, where he encounters Moo-myeong and vomits blood. Il-gwang runs to his room and lights a candle, but it extinguishes and he gets very scared and flees the town and heads to Seoul. However, he then turns back and calls Jong-goo to warn that Moo-myeong is the real demon and the stranger was a shaman trying to stop her, but he doesn’t pick up the calls from him. Meanwhile, the wounded Yang I-sam receives news that Oh Seong-bok has killed his family, at the same time that Hyo-jin then disappears. While searching for her, Jong-goo meets Moo-myeong, who claims the stranger is still alive and she has set a trap for him, but it will fail if Jong-goo goes home before the rooster cries three times, and Hyo-jin will kill everyone. Il-gwang calls Jong-goo and tells him he should go home to protect his family and now says that Moo-myeong is the real demon and the stranger was a shaman trying to stop her. Moo-myeong says Il-gwang is a mere pawn of the real demon. Confused, Jong-goo asks her if she is a human or a ghost. She gives a cryptic answer. Jong-goo notices she is wearing the personal items of the victims, including his daughter’s hair pin. Believing this to be proof she is responsible, he dashes home before the third cry of the rooster. The moment he crosses his threshold, the floral trap set by Moo-myeong withers.

Yang I-sam returns to the stranger’s house with a sickle and a cross. He finds a secret cave nearby and the stranger alive inside. He asks the stranger about his true form and says he thinks the stranger is the devil, but if he’s wrong, he’ll leave him in peace. The stranger laughs maniacally and says he is the one who won’t let him leave. He photographs Yang I-sam while asking why he still doubts the stranger’s identity. As Yang I-sam stands frozen, the strangers nail grows and changes into a demon.

Back home, Jong-goo finds Hyo-jin has brutally murdered their family. He tearfully calls out to her, but she doesn’t respond. It is implied she ends up attacking him as well. Il-gwang arrives and takes photographs of Jong-goo’s dead family as Hyo-jin sits in a trance. Returning to his car, he unintentionally drops a box filled with photos of the murdered villagers that the stranger claimed to have burned. As Jong-goo lays dying, devastated by his family’s death, he remembers happier times with his daughter and begins to smile, assuring her that he will protect her.

Movie Information

Directors Na Hong-jin
Starring Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura
Genres Suspense, Horror
Subtitles English [CC]Audio languages Korean

Peter Ahn

Peter Ahn

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