In what amount to two of its mellower scenes, The Wailing opens with a Bible verse and ends with a man’s devastated vision of better days.
Most everything else that happens in Na Hong-jin’s supernatural police procedural about a string of puzzling murders that leave entire families slaughtered is, as they say, bonkers. The film, which just premiered at Cannes and has already proved box office gold in its native country, is marked by occult esoterica that’ll have you wondering if True Detective‘s third season takes place in Korea: a Gollum-like hermit living in the woods with nary but a loincloth to protect himself from the elements (he’s one of the nicer characters), a vision of shamanic evil as a pervasive force that passes between hosts as easily as if it were airborne. (Given the toxic wild mushrooms that may or may not be responsible for all this, maybe it is.)
Na makes the familiar sight of postmortem crime scenes disturbing again by painting them in more blood than a Quentin Tarantino–directed episode of Hannibal, complete with glimpses of the ritual sacrifices that precede them. The result is both a high-minded zombie flick and a visceral lament for broken family bonds.
That the film has so many partial reference points only makes the ultimate amalgamation stranger, as the chimeric whole can’t be fully explained by its parts. The Wailing enters the world malformed and screaming, as powerless to stop itself as we are.
Directed by Na Hong-jin
Well Go USA
Opens June 5, AMC Empire 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 1, 2016