The Wailing is a Korean thriller/mystery that plays with human fear and uncertainty while the protagonist Jong-Goo as a policeman in a small village is searching for the answer for the violent outbreaks that begins to happen in numbers of family unit. They suspect that it’s caused by poisoned wild mushroom at first, but the continued terror is like smog slowly emerging from household to household and the evil spirit gradually hovers over the whole village.
As the story developed with this unclear fog in a slow but intense pace, Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-won) as an empathetical character is afraid of something evil has cursed with this town while he feels responsible to protect his town. A typical local village policeman thanks to Kwak Do-won’s consistent and convincing acting. He is the lead of the story who uncovers the suspicion with uncertain sensation and brings us into the story with our curiosity.
The film involves with several characters that help shape the direction of the mystery or confusing it even more. The Japanese stranger that newly arrived in the town, the Shaman who comes to save the daughter, a female ghost we are not sure of her intention, and Jong-Goo’s daughter who got possessed by evil spirit after the disease outbreak continues to spread out. Who Jong-Goo is going to believe is the real devil and who is the real saver?
Having the same journey as the the protagonist, we as audience are confused and uncertain of what direction to go or who the devil is as much as the movie wants us to be. Nothing is predictable and we don’t know what’s going to happen in next minute, which makes this 156 min film really intense and we are hooked up to see what the truth is behind it.
We have guessed the monster form along with the story developed. Would it be demon/ghost? killer? zombies? The movie is influenced by genre of western horror cinema. Because we are uncertain of the evil as well as who is there to blame we are as helpless and eager to figure out what’s really happening as the protagonist Jong-Goo.
The film is also cultural specific and full with traditional Korean custom like people are scared of evil spirit and want to hire Shaman to break away the curse. In the scene of the Shaman performs ceremony to exorcise the demon. The whole atmosphere is consistently covered with confusion and stress. At the end Jong-Goo decides to call it a quit to save his daughter and went the Japanese stranger’s house to hunt down what they believe is the real evil out of his intensified anger.
As the story unfolds, the Shaman points at the female ghost as the real evil while the story plot twists around. We are even more confused just like Jong-Goo. He suspects everyone and doesn’t know who to believe anymore. At the end he made an inevitable turn while the priest eventually sees who the real devil is.
The film is filled with human imperfection and their easily convinced and suspicion toward each other based on rumors or the tradition power figures. Jong-Goo is like a regular person who has fear but fights with whatever that threatens his community and family. He has influence of the traditional eastern culture while his characteristic is filled with fear and anger as the story unfolds. At the same time he wants to protect the people he loves.
Consequently he is relatable and it’s one of the reasons that the story is successful in drawing a persona we could be in and want to find out the truth together with him. We may not from the same country or live in a small village but the metaphor of the we are the cultural product and we believe the same evil spirit with the culture has shaped and believe certain force or race to blame. Meanwhile we are raised to protect our community as much as the protagonist is set up to do in the film, and when something wrong happens we are eager to figure out the cause and try to put things back to normal the way it was. However when things aren’t the same anymore and we are hopeless to change back that has once arrived, which result in we are despair and angry and fighting with our last breath with the things that inevitably changed everything that we were once lived in, once believed and identified with.
Horror cinema with different monsters does not exist only to make people scared, it’s a symbolic form that represents our fear, exposes us as a culture/a community to the great danger to question our belief, the human imperfection of our doubt and suspicion of outside sources or even each other. At the end of the day we just want to find out the truth but we always can’t know the whole truth until it’s too late just because we choose to believe some part of it and we are unable to see the whole picture, and it’s just human to pick a side each of which we are uncertain and unable to be certain. We have our own perception that determines our actions and we are easily to be persuaded by others that we believe are our own and built up hatred and uncertainty towards the cultural figures or races that we were taught not to believe in.
The film has reminded us we are living in a dilemma and we are consistently choosing which side to believe in undesirable set of circumstances and hope that we have picked the right one to move on. However, the fact is the truth is always hidden and when we eventually sees through everything it’ll be the only wish the happiest past that we fought hard to protect still exists.