How I recently discovered and watched the South Korean film The Wailing surprised me. This film, which has been released since 2016, I found when I was looking for what film I wanted to watch during quarantine. On paper, this is a horror film . But on closer inspection , The Wailing is more than that. This is a film that has carefully managed to take several genres at once and incorporate into it.
From director Na Hong-jin ( The Chaser , The Yellow Sea ), The Wailing tells of a policeman in a remote village called Gokseong in the mountains of South Korea. Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) lives with his mother-in-law (Her Jin), his wife (Jang So-yeon) and their son, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee). One day, a brutal murder case emerged in the village and made all its residents worried. Jong-goo and the local police begin their mission to solve the case.
For Jong-goo, this case is an opening to a journey full of mystery and mystical horror that will later add complexity to his life. The longer he tried to solve the case, the more mystical events he encountered. In the end, he didn't know what or who he believed.
Not only does the film often make the hair stand on end because of how scary it is, but the duration it has is also very intimidating, which is running for 156 minutes or 2 hours and 30 minutes. For a horror film , this duration is very long. It's so long, even the horror film that I remember, which has this long duration is only the Ari Aster Midsommar film, which is also more than 2 hours long. However, despite having such a very long duration, The Wailing never feels slow or boring. Never.
What makes this film so successful is that as long as the film is running, many themes and genres are taken at once. Horror , here, moves as the main dish. We are served many side dishes, namely dark comedy, relationships between families (especially father and son), mysteries, as well as religion, beliefs and rituals. All of that was skillfully combined in The Wailing but did not forget the main theme, which was the mystical horror it presented.
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Just like Jong-goo, we as the audience also feel what he feels. The first is of course we are curious, what really happened? How can a village that looks peaceful can have such heinous murders that not only happened once but many times. Our curiosity does not diminish as well, but increases as the story progresses, such as when Jong-goo finds a mysterious woman Moo-myung (Chun Woo-hee) who says that he is an eye witness to the murder but disappears when needed.
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Then here we also feel the horror and fear that Jong-goo experienced. Here, fear is brought in from the mystery side of this film. Jong-goo and his friends realize that all of this might be the act of a mysterious Japanese person (Jun Kunimura) who lives in the middle of the forest. Every time he investigated this Japanese man, strange events always came. This person carries a mystical aura that can still be felt even at the end of the film. Who is this Japanese, Jong-goo thinks and that is what he wants to solve and hopes to find some light in the cases that have befallen his village.
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Mystery and horror work well because the film doesn't rush through the story. For over 150 minutes, we are slowly being led step by step, slowly but surely to ensure that every dark and cynical nuance this film has really creeps in and envelops the audience. This is what makes The Wailing has a very long duration and the plot is not fast, it still feels tense and I never feel bored.
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The film also succeeds in engaging with themes of religion and belief, something that is often used in horror films but rarely gets as deep as The Wailing . In the middle of the case, Jong-goo realizes that the people who committed the murder were apparently possessed by an evil spirit. On his way he also met several religious people such as Yang I-sam who is a priest who is still in training and Il-gwang, a shaman who is assigned to perform an exorcism. We as spectators will also have the opportunity to see how these people fight against evil spirits in their own ways and beliefs.
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The Wailing works because not only does this film have a very interesting story, but this film also manages to attract the attention of the audience from start to finish and never once let go. While we may have thought that we have found a bright spot in this case, it turns out that there is something that dispels the theory that we have believed so far and returns to thinking about what really happened.
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