The Wailing (2016)
((summary taken from Asia Torrents))
A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
In all honestly, this movie probably deserves a higher rating than I actually gave it, but Infinity Challenge and 1N2D have been parodying and referencing it for so long now, that by the time I finally got around to seeing it, my expectations were so high, they were through the roof and headed towards the moon.
The way they described it, I had expected something scary . . . vengeful ghosts, creepy characters, scary settings, and lots and lots of jump-scares. And when I finally sat down to watch it, that's what I was looking forward to - I was in the mood to be scared, to jump at every sound, to cover my eyes, scream, and to shut off my mind. Yet it wasn't that type of horror movie at all. It was grisly, disturbing, and did a great job of making me guess what was going on . . . but it wasn't frightening. I wasn't scared.
So if you're looking for something like what I described above, set this one aside for now, and watch it when you're actually in the mood to put your brain to the test - when you're ready and willing to be frustrated, when you're more than happy to find yourself questioning every scene and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together (though no matter how hard you try, they still won't fit). Perhaps then you'll be able to appreciate it for the type of horror movie it is, and can give it the extra star that I couldn't bring myself to, because one thing I've learned when it comes to approaching movies, is that sometimes expectations can make all the difference.
So avoid my mistakes: don't go in expecting this to be something it's not.
If you're curious about the acting, it was top-notch (something I've come to expect from these kinds of movies) and the tone and atmosphere were suitably creepy and dark. A little *too* dark, in fact, which made it a bit hard to see at times. But the ambience and cinematography were excellent, so if that sort of thing is important to you, you won't be disappointed on that front.
Story-wise, when I was finished, I found there were quite a few parts of the movie I didn't understand, so I'll try to explain some of the popular theories below, so you don't have to search all over the internet like I did for closure. I won't be able to answer everything (nor am I really motivated to), but hopefully it'll help you make sense of some of the more puzzling aspects of the film. Of which there were many.
So if you don't want to be spoiled, run away while you can. You can always read this after you've finished watching it. ^_^
First of all, this isn't your typical ghost story. If anything, it's The Exorcist, with lots of emphasis on possession and religious overtones thrown in to make you question everything you see. To drive the point home further, it opens with a quote from the bible (which, unhelpfully, was not translated in the version I watched. Thanks, translators).
Courtesy of Luke 24:37-39:
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."
I really wish this quote had been translated because it really ties together an important theme for this film: Namely, faith. Not only does it bring into question "doubt" which is something the protagonist struggles with throughout the entire film, but considering this is Jesus speaking after rising from the grave, it mirrors the young woman who confronts the protagonist at the very end of the film, asking him to trust her on faith alone - something he fails to do. The rooster crowing three times is meant to parallel a similar conversation in the bible, when Jesus told Peter that by the time the rooster crowed, he'd deny him three times. The similarities are obvious, yet the audience is kept in the dark same as him, right until the Japanese man is actually shown to be the devil incarnate.
Whether he was always the devil, or only took on the role once he was killed and thrown from the cliff, remains one area of contention. Though personally, I tend to believe he was always evil, and that he was simply placing himself in a position that would make the villagers sin, so that he could damn their souls and steal them later through the photographs he took. One thing to notice though are the clothes the characters wear. All the "evil" characters are dressed in dark colors, while Jong-goo begins the film in his bright white police uniform, but once sin starts to take hold, he changes into darker clothes as well.
As for the "helpful" shaman, we're given several clues early on to alert us to the fact that he isn't who he claimed to be. For one thing, he drives on the left side of the road, just like the Japanese do, and for another, his undergarments are of the Japanese-variety, and apparently not something a Korean would ever have reason to wear; shaman or no. That, and during his bombastic ritual, he breaks a totem pole (known as jangseung), which are considered protective charms for a village meant to frighten away demons. And though he claimed the crow in the jar was placed there as a curse, it's quite possible it was placed there for the very opposite reason, as a means of protection, since in Korean lore, crows are considered symbols of the sun, and represent divine intervention in earthly, human affairs. They don't have the dark connotations they often evoke in Western culture.
Of course, how that shaman was connected to the "devil" is also up for debate. Some people think they were partners and working together, while others believe they were working independently, and were fighting over control of the villagers souls. I tend to believe the latter, since he appeared to do some real damage during his exorcism, and feuding shaman are more believable than the devil teaming up with some puny human.
Returning to the young woman in the white dress, it's quite possible she wasn't just some random ghost, but the village's guardian spirit - someone tasked with watching over and protecting the village as best she could. That's why she forced the evil shaman away and made him simultaneously bleed and vomit blood - not because she was evil or meant to be feared, but because she knew he meant the family harm and was trying to protect them. That would also explain her interest in the villagers, and her constant presence but lack of identity.
As for the sin the protagonist committed (which the ghost alludes to) I tend to lean towards the gluttony/sloth explanation. Not only are they considered two of the seven deadly sins, but the very first scene we're shown of Jong-goo, he's partaking in both: he chooses to eat rather than to fulfill his responsibility as a police officer, and when he finally does arrive at the crime scene, we're shown this is far from the first time he's been late to work. Not to mention, for someone with such an important job, tasked with defending and protecting the weak, he's portrayed as almost bumbling and ineffective, and even takes on the sin of wrath when he confronts the Japanese stranger at his home, killing his dog.
Another popular theory is that his sin is a result of his xenophobia, or his willingness to blame the foreigner for the unexplainable sickness plaguing the town. The only problem I have with this theory is that his concerns seem to be legitimate (not to mention, they're proven true), and unlike his partner who is quick to jump to that conclusion from the start, he actually does attempt to do some legitimate police work before blindly blaming the "new guy in town". I actually believe that sin fits his partner better, though I suppose in the very least, it's a testament to treat everyone fairly and to keep an open mind. That, and don't put your trust in false gods.
Over all, this was a clever, disturbing movie, and definitely worth a watch. I just wish I hadn't gone into it with certain expectations that tainted the experience for me.
END OF SPOILERS