Fantasia (International Film Fest) has been premiering (or North American premiering) great genre films for a while now. I’ve never made it to the fest but I’ve excitedly awaited attendees’ tweets/reviews when the time comes each year. This year, I have a blog. And this year, I was accepted to review films from the Fantasia line-up remotely. (maybe i would have been accepted to attend as press. alas, it was not meant to be this year) That means that I get to watch/review some of the films that show there! I’m stoked! Are you stoked? First up is: The Wailing (aka: Goksung. aka: The Strangers (Les E’trangers), which is the most appropriate name for it really) a South Korean supernatural horror/thriller from Hong-jin Na, the director of The Chaser (aka: Chugyeogja), which you may or may not have heard of/seen. First film review from Fantasia – Go!
Gruesome murders start becoming a regular occurrence in a South Korean small town. In each, a previously non-violent person will suddenly kill the people nearby. Even if they’re family. (especially if they’re family). A mid-level police officer takes a special interest in the cases. He hears through the local rumor mill that the troubles (murder counts as ‘troubles’) started happening soon after a Japanese hermit came to town. He asks around, hears some startling (if unbelievable) stories (mainly that the dude is a ghost) and decides to investigate. He finds the man’s house in the hills and then finds the man’s secret rooms full of animal bones and candles and pictures of victims before and after death respectively. And not just local victims either. There’ve been a lot of victims altogether. He warns the man to get lost and heads back home. Soon his daughter starts behaving very strangely indeed. He heads back to the Japanese man’s home and gets further on his bad side. When his daughter gets worse, the local shaman is called in to perform a cleansing ritual on the presumably possessed child. It’s so intense that dad shuts it down mid-ritual. He then takes matters into his own hands and rounds up a vigilante posse to go fuck that hermit up. Do things go as planned? Is the hermit really a ghost/demon, or is he innocent? Well, you have to watch the film to find out, won’t you?
I’ll get my criticism out of the way first. The film is too long. And, I’m not just saying that because I stayed up too late watching it. No. There are scenes that are redundant and do nothing to move the story along. Even though they are gruesome and interesting enough, they could have been cut. But that is where my criticism ends. And that’s minor. The performances in The Wailing are pitch perfect. The officer’s little girl in particular is amazing to watch. (apologies for not including her name. i don’t know it) She writhes and spits and swears and sloppily eats cold fish. The violence and hatred channeled through that tiny little body is impossibly menacing. More than once, her performance reminded me of Linda Blair’s turn as Reagan MacNeil in its shocking impact. (i couldn’t help but wonder if the performance would be psychologically damaging to the kid!) Every role is expertly played, from the father/officer’s mad, desperate scramble against time to save his daughter from unfathomable danger, to the hermit’s stolid stare and ambiguous intentions. The scares come from more than just the excellent cast though. The scenes of police discovering and combing through dark, dismal, destroyed rooms that hide snatches of bright red bloody clothing and lifeless pale extremities are chillingly realistic. The film is rooted in realism. These murders are being committed by humans. Scientifically reasoned hypotheses for motives are adopted by all but few. So, the quest to stop what is rumored to be a malevolent spirit by any means necessary puts the viewer in awkward place. We’ve seen the damage the “possessed” can do, but what if it’s not the Japanese hermit? What if xenophobia and fear of the “other” is behind the rumors? The film manages to pull viewer sympathies in opposite directions, making for a tumultuous emotional experience. This is what modern horror should give us. And The Wailing delivers.
The Final Cut: The Wailing is a harrowing story of possession and paranoia that shows the lengths a parent will go to in order to protect a child. The performances are flawless, the violence and blood shock the senses, and the stakes are high.