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Film review: The Wailing – Na Hong-jin merges demon horror with police procedural

South Korean tale of murder and demonic possession is a little lengthy, with a claustrophobic atmosphere and moments of ferocity, but it’s not terrifying

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 11:49am

3/5 stars

A canny blend of demon horror and police procedural, South Korean tale The Wailing is an epic plunge into the darkest recesses of the psyche. Written and directed by Na Hong-jin (The Chaser), it takes place in a rural village, Goksung, where a series of bizarre and inexplicable murders occur in domestic settings, beginning after a man stabs his wife and children for no reason.

Bumbling cop Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) investigates these crimes, with suspicion falling on a lone Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who lives in the woods. Some say he’s a demon; one claims he saw him eating from a deer carcass. But matters escalate when Jeon’s daughter starts screaming and swearing, as if she too is possessed. Jeon has little choice but to delve into this supernatural chaos.

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Running at a meaty 156 minutes, The Wailing could have used a trim; the sequence where a shaman (Hwang Jung-min) arrives to perform a traditional exorcism feels interminable in length. But while it’s not the leanest movie, it craftily plays with your expectations, offering more questions than answers amid an increasing hysteria that will gradually get under your skin.

With the film shot in natural lighting, it means that the ink-black night-time scenes feel particularly claustrophobic. The Wailing isn’t quite dynamic enough to truly terrorise, but whether it’s Jeon beating a dog to death (off camera, thankfully) or a dramatic car crash, there are ferocious moments that puncture the stillness. Unquestionably, Na is a talent to be watched.

The Wailing opens on November 3

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