Na Hong-Jin’s The Wailing (2016) is up there with one of the best horror films I have seen. It was extremely different compared to your standard horror film which usually sticks to one genre, but The Wailing incorporated the supernatural, zombies, and also demonic type horror. However, the main aspect about The Wailing that made me truly appreciate the film is its depiction of good and evil.
The Wailing is set in a rural south Korean village where strange brutal murders begin to occur. Suspicion turns towards a new-comer within the village, a Japanese man who is a complete mystery to everyone. The genius of this film is how it incorporates the sense of fear and evil, not with standard jump scares, but by making you stare at the face of evil, forcing you to confront the horror. As the film goes on and we uncover suspicions and mysteries, it becomes known that the Japanese man is in fact the devil, or at least a demon of sorts. Furthermore, we also find out that the woman in white turned out to not be a demon and was instead a manifestation of good and purity (at least I think). This creates a clear contrast between good and evil and puts all the events of the film into perspective, the film becomes a battle for the souls of the village, with the woman in white trying to save them and the demon trying to corrupt them. One detail I found very intriguing was the reference to the Bible in regards to the woman in white where we see her casting stones towards the main protagonist (Jong-Goo) which is what leads me to believe she is that of a good presence.
‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ – The Gospel According to John, Chapter 8, Verses 3-7
The Wailing also places great emphasis on trust as we see towards the end of the movie where the woman in white begs Jong-Goo not to return home as she knows of his ill fate if he does. Rather he instead chose to not trust the woman in white and trust the shaman (who is secretly working with the demon) instead. As such, we see the repercussions of not having faith which ultimately brings the demise of our main character. There are many questions left unanswered, however I think that is the point of the film, such as how the main protagonist was constantly searching for the answer as to why his family had to go through this, but never finds out. Maybe one message of the film is that nothing has all the answers, not religion, not the demon, not the spirit, not our main character.
From the get go it is clear that The Wailing is deeply influenced by Christianity as it opens with this quote:
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” – Luke 24:37-39
This is also what the demon says to the priest at the very end, and here we encounter another major theme: identity. Throughout the whole film there are constant questions as to who is who because no one has faith or trust in what they hear or see, as such there is a complete lack of identity, creating immense uncertainty towards the face you are looking at. For example, we see the main protagonist doubt that the woman in white is actually of good nature, he is uncertain about her identity as with how he thinks that the Japanese man is a shaman, even though he really is a demon. However, this is all still questionable as we never for certain know who represents what. For example, what was the fathers sin? When the main character asks why me? why my daughter? The spirit tells him ‘Because her father has sinned… Her father suspected another. He tried to kill him, and he finally succeeded.” What does this mean? Is it because he suspected the stranger of being evil but never truly knew, and therefore choosing to kill him without concrete knowledge was his sin? It’s as if the demon was a test for him in which he failed, however I may be wrong.
Ultimately, this film is deeply philosophical and has great rewatch value as every time you will notice clues and references you did not notice before. It is also one of the most intelligent horror films I have ever seen as whilst being terrifying, there is meaning to the terror as it makes you question the meaning behind what you are watching. If you like horror, or if you like philosophical films, this one’s for you. A must watch. 9/10.