The Wailing Review (2016): Shamans, Ghosts, and Demons

Shamans, Ghosts, and Demons

The Wailing is a very intriguing Korean movie. Unlike the usual breed of horror we see nowadays, The Wailing centers on rural horror, the type involving shamans, ghosts, and demons.

The film centers on Jong-goo, a policeman in a small village assigned to investigate a series of murders. Through his investigation, he learns that a rash on the suspect’s body precedes the subsequent killing, after which the suspect’s body falls into stupor. While all of this is happening, he hears rumors of a Japanese man residing in the mountainside who is believed by many to be the cause of all these killings.


While investigating one of the murders, Jong-goo meets a woman, Moo-myeong, who tells him about the Japanese man. Jong-goo goes to the mountains, finds the hut of the Japanese man, and sees pictures of the infected and murdered residents of his village. He intimidates the Japanese man to leave the village by killing his dog. When he gets home, he realizes that his daughter is starting to have major mood swings and is developing a rash. A shaman, Il-gwang, is summoned by Jong-goo’s mother-in-law to help undo the Japanese man’s curse.

What I Liked

Focus on Traditional Beliefs. The focus of the movie on traditional elements such as shamans, ghosts, and demons was very refreshing. The rural setting of the movie enabled a natural inclusion of these elements, and it’s something that we don’t see very often.

Ambiguity.  The movie rests on ambiguity as its foundation. Coming into the movie, I didn’t know what was in store. Watching gradually, I thought the movie was a zombie flick, then a demon possession flick. Heck, I even thought that the movie was not supernatural at some point. The movie blurts information in very small doses, which leads to a lot of speculation and excitement. Who is the bad guy? Who is the good guy? These are two questions that lingered throughout the movie, and it is only near the end of its 156-minute running time, when everything is too late, that the answers to these two questions are revealed.

Amazing Buildup. The buildup to the ending is one of the most thrilling and nerve-wracking scenes I have watched in a long time. Hyo-Jin’s confrontation with the woman in white and the young priest’s confrontation with the Japanese man, the two happening concurrently, were the scenes that the whole movie was leading up to. It was amazing how I had no idea what was going to happen next.

What I Didn’t Like

Extremely Slow Pace. The movie surely took its time to lay out the characters in the movie. The movie is extremely long, at 156 minutes, to the point that two movies could have been made out of it. In fact, the movie could be split into two parts, pre-shaman and post-shaman, You could probably watch the first part one night and the other on the next night to avoid fatigue.

The Verdict

The Wailing is a very atypical horror movie. It doesn’t rely on jump scares for its brand of horror. Instead, it relies on dread and ambiguity to deliver maximum impact. The event leading up to the end of the movie is one of the most nerve-wracking scenes in recent memory. Highly recommended.

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