09 June, 2016

Abandon Hope All Ye Etc Etc Etc

A review of The Wailing (2016)
Directed by Na Hong Jin

The Wailing is a film that, from the outset, purports to be a mysterious film, mystical, even. While there's many questions and concepts the film raises and just as easy moves past, there's one question that bothers me the most. Is The Wailing a dumb film that thinks its smart or a film that's just dumb?

The Wailing: It's like The Exorcist, but shit.
 We might never know. Nor should we. There are some things man isn't meant to know. That might be one of the themes of The Wailing, but you shouldn't spend any amount of time trying to find out if that's true or not. The only thing people should do to The Wailing is to encase it in concrete and drop it into the bottom of a very deep lake.

The main cop is kind of chubby. That's fun.
The Wailing comes from Na Hong Jin, he of The Chaser, one of the more contentious films amongst my friends and I (they love it and I'm right). As troubling as that film is, there was a talent on display. Hearing about The Wailing, I wanted to see what he could do with some more years under his belt, and with a different genre.

This is what I get for being curious.

The Wailing is part ghost story, part possession story, part detective story, and part family drama. It's as much True Detective as it is The Excorcist as it is The Host. And, brother, does it show. In The Wailing's ass-grindingly long seventeen hours (IMBD says “Two hours, thirty six minutes,” but that can't be right), it bounces confidently from one genre to another, from one theme to another. At first it's fun to watch the movie slowly work its way towards the main plot. It's a mystery film and it does a good job of being mysterious. It doesn't show its cards right away and that works right up until you realize that it isn't taking the scenic route, it's just meandering. At no point is either the set up, the execution, or follow through anything less than a waste of time. Exciting sometimes, but, by the end, The Wailing's drama is one massive, ghosty wank.

God, I'm angry at this fucking movie.

Part of this is because the few twists that the film has neither work nor are they actual twists. The film's central premise is wrapped around a mysterious Japanese man that has shown up in this rural mountain village. Ever since he showed up, one of the movie's more gullible charcters says, there's been trouble around town.

The film's main character, like you, knows that this is ridiculous. People don't just show up to town and cause trouble. Especially not foreigners. Plus, it's 2016, you can't just throw a mysterious foreigner into your film and expect us to be afraid of him because it's A) Hackneyed and B) Racist. It would be like a Mexican showing up to an American movies and everyone going “There's something wrong with that greaser up there.”

(Oh, and everyone calls the Japanese man the “Jap,” which, like, I get. These aren't hyper-liberal city folk. Maybe they don't use all the right nomenclature. This isn't tumblr, this is the real world and sometimes that's okay. I'm not so much offended by any of it as I am confused. Am I meant to sympathize with these people despite their xenophobia? Or empathize with it? Am I meant to feel sorry for their ignorance? Is there just a level of Korean mountain patois that I'm missing? If the movie is only two and a half hours long, how come when I look in the mirror, I see the face of a seventy year old man?)

Anyways, if an American movie busted that out, you'd go either “Fuck you, movie” or “Fuck you, guy.” I'm not sure where I'm supposed to stand with The Wailing, which goes back to the degree of stupidity that the movie is guilty of. There are very few sane readings of a plot point like that and I don't think The Wailing accounted for any of them.

As the film unravels, it's supposed to be a revelation that this semi-racist stereotype is, SHOCKER, actually not a bad person. Unless of course. . . HE IS! And then you realiz that you don't care and that none of it makes sense. The film wants to play the premise of demonic possession and ghosts and all that in a straight manner (I must confess, Korean mysticism is not one of the areas of my expertise),

It's like watching a really confident lumberjack run along one of those logs in the water. For a while it's fun to see him play this game, to keep ahead of the log, to keep his balance, then, eventually, the momentum catches up with him and he eats shit and falls into the water. Except he keeps pumping his legs. And he's telling you that this is important, that this is really what lumberjacking is all about. And it takes three hours. And you hate yourself at the end. And lumberjacks. And life.

Fuck lumberjacks.

Fuck The Wailing.

Fuck me.

What movies was this dude in?
Wait, don't tell me, I'll get this.
Like a lot of truly hateable films, The Wailing isn't just plain bad. There's a kind of charm to shabby films. Your indy comedies, your Z-grade monster movies, your exploitation films. Those can be fun. And The Wailing, up until its ludicrous fifth act has some laughs in it, as well. It's also well shot and beautifully set dressed. You won't find a better looking movie that takes place in the Korean countryside this year. Or maybe any year.

Did I mention that I hate this movie?

I guess that zombie attack was cool. I mean, it was nonsense, but. . . No, wait. Why was that even in that fucking movie? 


Something nice: The girl that plays Gyo-Jin does an A+ of playing both a percocious daughter that has a dumbass for a dad and a ravenous demon that has a dumbass for a dad. I'd like to see her in a good movie. Also, I can't find her name on IMDB. MY BAD, OKAY?

That script, though. Boy howdy that mother fucking script.

That fucking script.

Jesus Christ, do I hate this mother fucking movie.

Ugh. And the ending. I don't even hate the ending because it's a downer. DOWNERS ARE FINE! The Exorcist is a movie that this film owes and awful lot to and it has a bummer ending and I love that movie. I also love The Host which has a both a bummer ending and an ending that makes very little sense, but I LIKE that movie because it's fun! It does stuff! What does The Wailing do? It makes your a series of promises and then, over the course of the rest of your life, breaks them one by one until you look back on them and have one fatal, terrible realization. It's too late. The Wailing already has you in its grips and it is never letting go.

The Wailing is the Devil.