The Wailing (Gokseong)

I saw a flurry of positive reviews at the end of 2016 for this disturbing horror by South Korean director Na Hong-jin. Currently showing at the time of writing on Netflix in the UK, it’s a fairly long and extremely creepy film that starts off as a kind of black comedy with a plot that hints towards zombieism, before gradually turning into something much darker, slowly revealing its true nature during quite startling and well-constructed second and third acts. Our protagonist is Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won), a portly policeman in a South Korean mountain town who must investigate when locals suddenly become ravaged by disease and turn aggressive towards their friends and family. At first a virus is suspected, and then – oddly – an extra-strong magic mushroom is thought to be the cause; later, suspicion starts to fall on a quiet, private Japanese man, newly arrived in the area, played quite impressively by Jun Kunimura. This could be an allegory for Korean racism, or Korean attitudes to Japanese people in particular, and weirdly there also seems to be an implicit criticism of specific Japanese technology and the fetishisation of certain products; it becomes apparent, though, that something much more sinister is afoot, though I won’t say any more on that here. Na – who also wrote the story – constantly wrong-foots the viewer and even manages to keep the mystery going until the very end of the film, with various revelations ensuring you’ll probably want to go back and watch The Wailing again for earlier clues in the narrative. It’s beautifully shot by Hong Kyung-pyo, who has captured many luscious images of South Korea’s mountainous landscape, and superbly edited by Kim Sun-min, with a couple of standout sequences that cross-cut between various locations in a superb, frenetic fashion. It feels a touch derivative during the first half an hour, but eventually this becomes a bold, unsettling horror that will stay with you. (****)