South Korea should be the first place you look for new and engaging horror. If I Saw the Devil didn’t do it for you, 2016’s The Wailing is an even more sprawling and absorbing movie from the director of The Chaser that made waves on its debut, quickly becoming one of the most profitable movies to come out of South Korea in a long time. While we know sales don’t always equate to quality, The Wailing is the real deal: a true epic of the genre, it’s a monster of a picture with a long, long shadow.
Big things start small: The Wailing initially passes itself off as a police procedural, following an officer’s investigation into a series of criminal activity in and around the village he polices, but this is only as the foundation on which the movie will pile its layers of intrigue. It’s cornerstone, and initiating event, is the arrival of Japanese stranger who gains the immediate distrust of his neighbors in the village. The Wailing doesn’t rush its plot points, so its first third of will test the patience of certain viewers as it stacks its pieces; but rest assured, the movie’s Jenga tower of homicides, ghosts, and inexplicable illnesses will mount into a fearsome horror movie before a jaw-dropping South Korean exorcism (that has to be seen to be believed) collapses the movie into a Rubix cube of ever-shifting parts, resolving as much as it complicates, shuffling up tones and tropes until whatever you imagined this movie would be seems like a grievous mistake, and whatever you want it to be doesn’t matter. It will suck you down and hold you there.
Every minute of The Wailing’s five-year gestation period is up on the screen. Nothing that happens or is said wasn’t carefully weighed and considered. Nothing was left in that didn’t need to be there over the course of the movie’s two hour and thirty-six minute runtime. There are no loose ends; and while there is some sag in the middle, it’s more like the slack of a tripwire than any misstep in the narrative--because the moment the movie enters its final act, it will close on you like a steel trap. You don’t just walk away from this movie. It sticks.
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