The Wailing ★★★★½

First of all, Hong-jin Na is the man; this is an amazing film and may be one of the best horrors of the last ten years--which may be saying more about the genre than the film, but I don't watch a lot of horror so my opinion is flawed.

I think I can do this without spoiling.

If you don't know what style underpants Japanese and Korean men wear, or which side of the road they drive on, you might not 'get' this film. Not to mention who gets to cast the first stone or how many times a rooster burps. Religion is a spongy thing, from Shamans to the resurrected, and from scamming palm readers to the truly omniscient, they all speak and act ambiguously. So there's that.

Kudos to start:

The Shaman rituals are wonderful and intense, the music is so good. The zombie scene, just wow, even though it teeters close to "okay, there's six of us and one of him, lets try to get him one at a time" dumbness. Kwak Do-Won, like so many of the blubbery Korean actors I enjoy, is great with only a few errors, probably the director's fault. The little girl really does "bring it". Jun Kunimura, though problematic overall as the 'Japanese' man, has a couple scenes of such commitment and beauty (the photographers, makeup people, and director get some credit) my jaw hit the floor.

One eyebrow raised:

Films of subtle depth and substance should also be enjoyable on a superficial level to be great. This film is that, for the most part. BUT. There's a fine line between intentionally misdirecting your audience and being thoughtfully ambiguous. Hong-jin Na is a little wobbly on that line. I think this is the weakest of his three films.

The film is edited questionably. There are several scenes that all of a sudden aren't there any more and we're onto/into the next one leaving us to think: "How did they get out of that one"? This can be an effective technique or a sign that things haven't been thought through completely. This film isn't very fluid, imo.

Spankings:

In the horror genre, or otherwise, it's disappointing when there's a scary scene that ends up being a dream--doubly so if someone later asks 'Was it a dream?' or says with authority: 'It wasn't a dream'. There's a big scary scene that happens in this flick that just doesn't make sense for it to convert to a dream, unless the guy woke up where he was in the dream. It invalidates what happened right before it and during it.

The foot chase. This is a staple of many horrors and others. It's akin to the gun fight: stupid. When a hobbled old man, shown stumbling and falling down, can still outrun six capable, younger men, I'm gonna puke. I might even punt a film based on that, as this makes me lose lots of respect for the film maker and his/her choices.

Back to the underpants. I'm sure there are lots of 'tells' in the film I didn't get. Lots of them. But and So, even missing all of them, and even though I ask for an obvious 'tell' if/when the subtleties may be lost, the big obvious 'reveal' in this film is so clumsy I felt a big "Boo" well up from inside.

I'm on board with a film that might not make sense, might even frustrate while experiencing it in real time, and only reveals its true depth after it's over and you think about it and put all the puzzle pieces together. An example would be Spider Forest, a film I totally didn't 'get' while I was watching it, but felt enthused and excited about trying to make sense of it. When The Wailing ended I was glad it was over.

Don't get me started on the "Why is this happening?" question. You really have to make stuff up for the answer in the film to that question to make sense.

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