Sunday, September 11, 2016

Horror Film Review

The Wailing (2016):  Supernatural mayhem from South Korea that will either utterly freak you out or leave you scratching your head.  Or in my case, both.  I should point out that so far this year, only 13 films have perfect 100% scores on Rotten Tomatoes.  This is one of them.  At the very least, it shouldn't suck.  And it doesn't, but...Lord, a lot goes on in the two and a half hour running time.  I'll do my best to lay it out for you without spoilers (and believe me, it won't be easy given The Wailing is as much mystery as it is horror).

A small Korean village is suddenly beset by a series of bizarre murders at the hands of normal folks who fell ill to a mystery illness.  Boils are involved.  Doctors haven't a clue.  Local cop Jong-Goo (Do Won Kwak), a slightly bumbling family man, investigates and is led to believe a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who recently moved to the area is somehow connected.  His suspicions are based on what you'd call unreliable evidence.  A local store owner said while in the forest, he saw the Japanese stranger chewing on the carcass of a dead dear.  And that his were red.  And he wore nothing but a weird loincloth/diaper thing.  Jong-Goo enlists his partner and his partner's Japanese-speaking, priest in training nephew to accompany him to the stranger's house deep in the woods.  They find all kinds of fucked up things.  One room is full of pictures of the murder victims, some when they were alive and some of their ravaged corpses.  Also in the room are articles of clothing, some from the dead, some from those not dead.  Yet.  One item is the shoe of Jong-Goo's pre-teen daughter.  Another room is an altar complete with a black goat's head.  So it seems they've found the culprit.  Right?  Well...

Prior to her father's visit to the stranger's lair, Jong-Goo's daughter started acting weird.  No longer the sweet-natured daddy's girl, she's cussing like a sailor, eating like a starving linebacker, and just plain creepy.  There are more murders, suicides, and allegations against the Japanese man.  One story comes from a woman Jong-Goo meets while guarding a crime scene.  She's an odd duck.  Tells him she witnessed the murders, that the man sucked the blood and life from the victims.  Of course she disappears.  Jong-Goo's daughter goes downhill fast, nearly stabbing a neighbor lady to death in a fit of...oh, let's just say it:  possession.  A shaman is consulted and tasked with exorcising the demon. He says it's all the stranger's doing.  Jong-Goo, in a fit of paternal rage, gathers a posse and charges back up the mountain to once and for all take care of the Japanese man.  Unfortunately, they encounter a zombie (that's a long story) that simply won't die.  They do discover the stranger and give chase, only to lose him.  While the posse is driving their truck down the mountain, we see the stranger chasing the odd duck woman through the forest.  Next we know, the truck is hit by something big and slews to a stop.  It's the Japanese guy.  Dead.  Jong-Goo and friends dump the body over the guardrail.  Job seemingly done, he heads directly to the hospital and finds his daughter is back to normal.  Yay!  Right?

This is where everything goes sideways and we enter a minefield of potential spoilers.  The shaman tells Jong-Goo he was wrong, that the stranger was not the cause of the possessions but rather it's the woman in white (odd duck woman) who's responsible.  The daughter disappears from the house, Jong-Goo frantically searches the village...only to encounter the woman in white.  At the same time, his daughter returns home and is no longer normal, the shaman is racing to the scene, and the priest in training nephew tracks down the supposedly dead Japanese stranger to a candlelit cave.  What happens next is disturbing and more than a little confusing.  You'll have to decide for yourself what it all means.  I have a hunch, and I'm pretty sure I'm right.

I'm leaving so much out of this review it's damn near criminal.  If you see this movie, you'll understand why it's literally impossible to engineer a full plot summary.  Be easier just to hand over a copy of the script.

The Skinny

Acting:  All performances range from subtle and layered to out and out scenery-chewing.  Appropriate, though, for this kind of film.
Story:  Overly and unnecessarily complicated.
Direction:  The first movie I've seen that plods and wanders yet fully held my attention for the entire 156 minutes.
Production Values:  Filmed on location in the South Korean village of Goksung, it's about as authentic as you can get.  Kudos to the folks in charge of lighting.  That could not have been easy.
Gore/FX:  An impressive amount of blood and related awfulness.  Some serious gross, which is groovy.  The make-up crew deserve awards.  Especially for the zombie.  Eek.
Scares:  There are.  Not as many as I hoped, though.
Ending:  Um...well, you see, it's just...Oh, balls.  I don't know.  It's really fucked up, okay?
Verdict:  Should you see The Wailing?  Indeed you should.  If not for the overwrought plot, this film would be nearly perfect.  Keep in mind, if you're not used to Asian horror, you may wonder if I've been eating magic mushrooms.  (If you see the movie, you'll understand the mushroom reference and see that I'm being quite clever.)

Rating:  4 out of 5

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