Fantasia Film Festival 2016 Movie Review: Na Hong-Jin's THE WAILING

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the supernatural horror movie THE WAILING (2016) by writer/director Na Hong-Jin.  To be explain the story I will turn to IMDb's plot description:

A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.

Let me start with a simple confession, anytime I see a Bible verse at the start of a horror movie I get a little freaked out.  There is something about the battle between good and evil that the use of scripture denotes that just puts me a slight bit on edge.  Granted, sometimes movies that do this are horrible disappointments, but then there are the ones that work and leave me thinking long after the credits begin to roll.  Let us look at one of those latter examples today. 

Early scenes in this feature paint our main character, Jong Gu, as a different story of policeman than what we usually see.  He is proficient as an officer, yet still manages to be the butt of the office jokes due to being overweight; he is a loving family man, yet still has to sneak out to the car to have sex with his own wife; he is put upon, yet still manages to smile through the difficult times.  I liked him immediately.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is one of the most empathetic policemen put to film in a while; which makes it all the more difficult when real suffering starts to come his way. 

The trouble comes in the form of an abnormal murder, a mysterious stranger, a bizarre disease, and a horrific change in his daughter.  Near the beginning, each of these things feels so disconnected from the other that I had a hard time piecing together exactly where this film was going.  It was clear that there must be some sort of common through line, but each time a new problem cropped up, the older issue went by the wayside for a bit.  By the end, when all of the intricacies stood revealed, I was impressed at how character focused they managed to keep this massive tale. 

Given the scope of this feature, it is not surprising that the runtime was just north of two and a half hours.  While this fact alone might scare off some people, there was nothing I would cut from this film as not a single moment was wasted.  In fact, the last half hour or so was probably one of my favorite sequences in the whole movie as they kept the tension high by putting our hero in a seemingly impossible situation of choosing whom to trust.  This scene proves especially effective because not only does the whole plot turn upon it, but the audience is also kept just as in the dark as Jong Gu. 

While I have put great emphasis upon the ending, the pieces leading up to the finale are just as good thanks to some great production values.  The cinematography had just enough of a wow factor to keep me on the line without ever being so much that it undercut the focus of this feature.  The camera remained subdued during the more character focused moments, but quickly kicked into gear during the shaman's ritual or the fight with the infected proving that the writer/director had a perfect understanding of the tale he was telling. 

All in all, I cannot say enough nice things about this picture without giving too much away.  I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys good character focused pieces with supernatural twists or those who want to see a well orchestrated slow burn.  Even now I am still getting goose bumps just thinking about the final fade out. 

Nighty nightmares,
The Creeping Craig

THE WAILING will be screening as part of the Fantasia Film Festival on July 18th at 9:35pm at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium.