Gets under your skin and wriggles

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Horror is a genre that is much-explored by the cinema industries all over the world, especially in Hollywood. The popularity of the genre which generates a healthy amount of fan base as well as the relative ease in making one in terms of the budget of the movie have propelled many directors to have a go at making a horror flick. However, due to the abundance of horror movies, we hardly come across something original. Every jump scare, every plot twist there is, are more or less already explored by Hollywood, and most of Hollywood horror movies follow the same cookie-cutter plot which usually ends the movie with a victory to the ‘good’ but leaving some of the ‘evil’ intact for a possible sequel.  

Horror in Asian cinema, Japanese and Korean horror in particular, stray from this usual plot and don’t shy away from exploring alternative endings which gives a upper-hand to the ‘evil’. Although this is a unique plot and has the power of attracting viewers, such movies always carry the risk of not being able to keep the initial attention throughout the movie since the eventual triumph of the ‘good’ is what many viewers expect from a movie.

However, there are some movies which not only dare to take this unpopular plotline but also manage to win the hearts of the viewer despite the gruesome and ‘evil’ ending of the movie. The 2016 Korean horror movie The Wailing – written and directed by Na Hong-jin – is one such movie which is not only dark, relentless, and gripping, but also manages to keep the viewers at the edge of their seats throughout the movie, despite its unconventional ending.

The story revolves around Jong-goo, a policeman in the small village of Goksung in South Korea. He lives in a place where everyone knows everyone and nothing much really happens in the small village. However, his usual life is shaken with the discovery of a gruesome murder scene which rocks the whole village. The curiosity turns to panic when more and more crime scenes of similar nature pops up all over the village. As the pressure is steadily starting to build on the Police to solve the crime as quickly as possible, rumours spread that the deaths are caused by a mysterious disease cause by poisonous mushrooms. Another rumour suggests that the crimes are not a case of mushroom-poisoning but rather a demonic possession or a work of a ghost. All eyes are quickly turn towards the mysterious Japanese man living in the mountains. With no real leads at-hand, Jong-goo is forced to pursue the Japanese man as a suspect, which leads Jong-goo to the revelation that his own daughter too is now a victim of the mysterious disease. The arrival of a young woman in white complicates Jong-goo’s pursuit of the culprit and in the end, he finds himself running against the time to not just solve the mystery but also to save his own family.

The movie is rather long for a horror movie with a runtime of two hours and 36 minutes but don’t let it deter you from watching the movie. From the very beginning of the movie you are exposed to the gruesomeness and the blood and gore continues until the very last minute, keeping you disgusted at times – exactly like how a proper horror movie should do. The movie progresses in a linear plot with no flashbacks and despite there being a lot of characters, the main plot revolves around only a few of them so keeping track of everyone and following the plot is rather easy.

Despite being a horror movie, The Wailing surprisingly contains little to no jumpscares which is actually a good thing. Instead, the fear and the horror are generated through good old acting, makeup and blood. Speaking of acting, Kwak Do-won who plays Jong-goo does a stellar job at portraying the small-time cop who is just a flawed human being under his uniform. The child actor, Hwan-hee Kim who plays the daughter of Jong-goo also delivers a convincing performance which elevates the overall experience of the movie. It is said that Kim studied modern dancing for six months in preparation of the exorcism scenes in the movie and I must say those lessons certainly have not gone to waste.      

Despite containing a lot of animal deaths, the production of the movie is totally cruelty-free, except for the scene at the beginning of the movie where a man is seen hooking an earthworm as fishing bait. A real worm has been used in this scene but apart from that, no other animals were harmed while making the movie.

By revealing that it is evil that prevails in the end, I may have spoiled the ending of the movie for you but don’t let that deter you from watching this movie. I guarantee that you will be able to enjoy the movie to the fullest, despite knowing the outcome because you will have no idea – until the last minute of the movie – of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ in the movie.

The Wailing is a movie that not only gets under your skin but constantly wriggles around. The overall watching experience is a constantly-evolving one that forces you to guess and second guess all the time. However, it looks as if the director has already guessed what the viewer is going to guess thus shaped the narrative of the movie accordingly to keep the big surprise hidden until the very end of the movie. After the end credits roll, you will find yourself perplexed and in disbelief. You will turn around the events of the movie in your mind so many times to find plot holes and attempt to come up with different outcomes but you will concede to the director in the end. It is a masterclass of horror that is meticulously crafted from the very beginning upto the end. It starts off as a slow and very atmospheric horror drama but in reality it is very intense and demands your attention all the time. It is a movie that you can watch multiple times, despite knowing the ending, because there are so many details that one tends to miss while watching it for the first time. Acting, cinematography, costume design, and makeup; all are brilliantly done in The Wailing but the strong and gripping plot doesn’t let you classify this as anything other than a great horror movie.   

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe