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The Wailing – Review (London Film Festival)

The Wailing Review (London Film Festival)

I made a foray into the London Film Festival to check out the much-hyped South Korean horror-thriller, The Wailing.

This was also my first trip to the Picturehouse Central by Piccadilly, a hidden gem of a cinema only a year old and now my favourite in central London. Go if you have the chance, it’s quite striking and has the first cinema bar I would actually visit just as a bar. But I digress…

The plot runs as so: A quiet, creepy Japanese pensioner arrives in a small S.Korean village. Soon after, a mysterious sickness starts spreading. The boil-covered victims either die horribly from convulsions, or murder their family in a rampage. A bumbling provincial cop is drawn into investigating. Is the old stranger a ghost, or something else?…

Revealing which sub-genre this is will spoil the guessing game – The Wailing‘s greatest strength, besides from being unsettling, is the fun of trying to pin down what it’s really about, and subsequently interpreting the subtext.

Rural South Korea is portrayed evocatively, with shantytown against beautiful countryside. It’s a place where a shaman recommendation is not hard to find and the Korean take on supernatural ideas gives them a freshness. The movie has a terrific first hour, with a sense of foreboding from the off, and a hero characterised as a coward, reacting naturally and hilariously to ghostly figures at windows and doing a realistically half-assed job when it comes to crime-solving. But once his daughter is put in danger he arcs into sincere ‘desperate to save his daughter’ mode which is where he is disappointingly stuck for the rest of the movie.

The Wailing Review (London Film Festival)
At 2 hours, 36 minutes The Wailing is indulgently long, and could easily have trimmed 20 minutes. The pacing in the second half is meandering, with a build up to a final reveal that’s so slow my main emotional response was get on with it. When that final reveal comes it is a pretty memorable one, and makes several prior scenes more eerie in retrospect. However it also leaves the death hex sequence making almost no sense at all.

As mentioned The Wailing arrives in the UK on a wave of hype, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100%. While it is definitely worth seeking out, if anything it shows the flaws in the RT rating model because there is plenty of incoherence in the movie from small questions to big ones, even the simple point of who the protagonist is having sex with at the beginning – is it his wife, or is he having an affair with a neighbour – is made accidentally unclear by the way it’s staged, and it’s pretty important as sin plays a key role.

On the way out I happened to be walking behind director and national treasure Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) as he chatted about the film. What he said is in spoiler territory but he also gives it a measured recommendation.

Rating: B+

The Wailing is released November 25th in UK cinemas and On Demand.

The Wailing Review

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