On our search for the next great horror film, we next travel overseas. It’s understandable that most would immediately assume that this means to Japan, what with them having given us a plethora of popular films in the genre that include “Ringu,” “Ju-On: The Grudge,” “Dark Water,” and “Audition.” However, in this case, it actually means a stopover in South Korea, the country that gave us such horror flicks as “A Tale of Two Sisters,” “Death Bell,” “and “Whispering Corridors.” Filmmaker Na Hong-jin has already given us two well-received films with the crime dramas “The Chaser” and “The Yellow Sea,” but now he turns to the realm of horror for his latest project, entitled “The Wailing.” Will he be able to make it three in a row, or will the difficulty of the genre be a little too much for him to handle?
The film opens with a string of mysterious murders that are being investigated by a policeman named Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won). The murders are strange in that the people committing them have seemingly and randomly gone crazy, causing them to kill family members, and in some cases themselves. These events perfectly coincide with the arrival of a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura), whom Jong-goo is convinced is responsible. After illegally investigating the man’s house, he and his partner find a number of strange items, including pictures of the victims. However, all they are able to do at the time is give him a stern warning to leave. The situation only becomes worse when Jong-goo’s daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) begins showing similar symptoms to those who committed the murders. In their desperation, he and his wife enlist the aid of a Shaman, but will it be enough to save their daughter from the same fate that befell the others?
“The Wailing” is a rather intriguing horror film in that there are so many things going for it, yet something undeniably major holding it back at the same time. Starting off with what works, it has to be said that this is a gorgeously-made film. Na Hong-jin’s direction is on point and the cinematography is achingly beautiful, skillfully capturing the lush South Korean countryside. If nothing else, this is one of those films where you can just sit back and admire the beauty of what’s being put on screen. Even when it comes to the film’s more gruesome points, there’s no denying the artistry that went into the craftsmanship.
There’s also a lot to be said for its alluring mystery plot. From the start, we are pulled in by the bizarre nature of the murders that Jong-goo is investigating, running through the various possibilities of what’s causing these people to suddenly act this way. When it comes to involving Jong-goo’s daughter, it even becomes more personal on an emotional level, which goes a long way towards getting you invested in finding out the solution to the mystery and the ultimate outcome in regards to the characters’ fates.
That being said, while the film does have a fair amount going for it, there’s something else that can’t be ignored here, and that’s the film’s completely unnecessary runtime of 157 minutes. The mystery here is indeed intriguing and helps considerably in getting you through a lot of the film, but it simply doesn’t have enough substance to fill a runtime of this considerable length, leading to a number of scenes that feel over-extended or flat-out superfluous. It’s a pretty strange feeling to be getting into the plot, only to find that your commitment is wavering due to an over-abundance of material that doesn’t serve the story as well as it should. It also goes to show you the power of editing, and how if it’s not done correctly in terms of the overall film, then even a fascinating mystery like this can suffer for it.
In the end, Na Hong-jin’s “The Wailing” isn’t a bad film by any means, but it is one that needed to be tinkered with a little more so that the story doesn’t end up getting lost in the excessive runtime. It is indeed beautifully-made, which is another element that will help many viewers wade through the excess, and it does come down to an unexpected twisty ending that warrants some discussion, but with all things considered, it ends up being very sad to have to say that the resulting film is a middling entry in the horror genre that could’ve been great with just a tiny bit of additional effort.
“The Wailing” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of fantastic quality. The picture is perfectly sharp and clear throughout the lengthy presentation, which does a great job of showing off the film’s beautiful cinematography and settings. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally excellent, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, the film has been given top-notch treatment, resulting in a great experience in both areas.
The Beginning of The Wailing (2 Minutes): A very brief behind the scenes look at the film, featuring interviews with Na Hong-jin and some of the cast.
Making of (5 Minutes): Another look behind the scenes at the film, featuring interviews with cast and crew, in addition to some footage shot on the set.
“The Wailing” features some fine direction from Na Hong-jin, gorgeous cinematography, and an intriguing mystery, but it all ends up being smothered in an excessive 157-minute runtime that the story simply can’t fill. This by no means makes it a bad film, for there are clearly several things to like about it. However, if Na Hong-jin had been able to tighten it up a little bit and truly allowed the story to come alive, then this could have been something really special, instead of another missed opportunity in a genre that already contains so many.