One of the things that I miss most about pre-pandemic life is the movie theater; in particular, I miss rainy days when I didn’t have much to do, so I’d pick a film at random that sounded interesting to go see at the theater. Sometimes I would leave having seen some run-of-the-mill garbage, and sometimes I’d leave completely blown away.
The latter was, of course, a much less common occurrence, but one such time that I was lucky enough to have my mind blown was when I decided to go see The Wailing, persuaded only by its brief synopsis: “Soon after a stranger arrives in a little village, a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman, drawn into the incident, is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.”
The Wailing comes to Hulu on May 1st, and if you’re at all a fan of Korean films, horror films, folk horror, thrillers, elevated horror – any of those genres – The Wailing is a must-see. The movie begins with police officer Jong-Goo (Do-won Kwak) taking his time getting ready in the morning, knowing he has to go investigate a death. It turns out to be a violent and gruesome murder. There’s no mystery to solve of who committed the crime – they’ve got the killer, but he’s covered in boils and he’s not talking, and they have no idea what’s going on with him.
This one crime leads Jong-Goo and his partner Oh Sung-Bok (Kang-gook Son) on a twisty investigation. The Wailing takes turns that you won’t see coming, and while it may at times feel like a detective film, it’s so much more than that. They’re not sure if the crime at the beginning of the film is caused by poisonous mushrooms, or if “The Jap” is to blame. The Japanese man is a foreigner who’s recently arrived in town to much consternation; so much of The Wailing speaks to our fears of the unknown, and the nameless Japanese man is a target for local paranoia and post-colonial resentment.
Jong-Goo becomes personally invested in the case in a way that he usually doesn’t bother to, when his daughter Hyo-Jin falls ill in the same way that others involved in the case have. This leads Jong-Goo, at the advice of his mother-in-law, to get in touch with a Shaman who might be able to help heal her. From here, The Wailing begins to take a turn towards the mystic and supernatural; it might be much more than violent crimes that Jong-Goo needs to look into.
Something that’s missing from many Hollywood horror and crime films is a sense of humor and fun. Films like The Wailing and Memories of Murder (which both of our lead detectives in The Wailing are also in) are not afraid to make fun of cops and portray them as bumbling idiots, easily swayed by scary stories and local rumors. We all saw in Parasite how Bong Joon-Ho mashed up genres and gave us a film that was both comedic, enjoyable, dark, and terrifying; The Wailing also provides this unexpected disparity of tone and genre, in a way that is completely smooth and seamless.
For a horror film, The Wailing is strikingly beautiful. From the brutal crime scene during a torrential downpour at the beginning of the film on, The Wailing is grisly, beautiful, and gorgeous as our lead detectives navigate lush landscapes and more downpours. While seeing this at home is not quite the same as viewing it on the big screen, it’s still an incredible film visually. The Wailing is absolutely the kind of atmospheric horror that translates just as well at home — turn your lights low and the volume up.
During the course of the pandemic, while I’ve missed the movie theater, the popcorn, and the complete immersion into films as an experience, I’ve also grown to appreciate how streaming services have expanded their offerings. As movie theaters open back up and we begin to feel safe once again, I look forward to being completely surprised and caught off-guard by little known films, but I will also gladly revisit excellent films like The Wailing when they’re available to stream at home.
Movie theaters were always there for me when I needed them. When I got sober, going to the movies was one of those rare things that made me feel like a normal person. It was an activity I could do with other people without worrying — I knew we’d have something to talk about afterwards.
When I was going out of my mind with early-sobriety boredom, before I knew myself and what I liked to do at all, the movies were a place where I could turn my brain off and be somewhere else, just for a little while. Not only that, but if I caught something as great as The Wailing, I’d turn to Reddit for hours afterwards, reading comments and theories. I’m surprised to find, when revisiting The Wailing, that I still have almost as many questions as the first time I saw it.
Is The Wailing truly about a supernatural force, or is it not quite so straight-forward? How we handle our fears is something that we have all had to confront over the past year. While The Wailing is not about a pandemic, it will offer you an opportunity to reflect on how you’ve faced your fears; how you’ve dealt with the horrors of the unknown and things beyond your control.
The Wailing comes to Hulu on May 1, 2021.
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