If there’s one genre finally getting a little more brains, it’s horror. While not all of them can come out winners, it’s about time the genre became respectable again. Horror films aren’t all exactly the same, there are even fewer close to what The Wailing has to offer. Director Na Hong-jin has crafted an epic (156 minutes) yarn that smoothly careens through several genre tropes with ease. You never know what to expect as a quiet village is overwhelmed with mysterious deaths and illnesses. Along with stars Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimara, Woo-hee Chun, and the young Kim Hwan-hee, they deliver one of the year’s best horror films, if not one of the best of the year.
At the sleepy village of Goksung, a mysterious Japanese man, only referred to as The Stranger (Kunimara), has arrived, living in seclusion up in the mountains. Amongst the deaths and illnesses taking over the village, the bumbling police officer Jong-goo (Do-won) winds up on the case after he has a run in with The Stranger and The Woman of No-name (Chun) after one of the victim’s house burns down. It doesn’t take long before Jong-goo has to join forces with his fellow lawmen, a young priest, and a local Shaman (Jung-min), to find out who really is behind the evil and save his daughter.
Well Go USA has done a masterful job bringing The Wailing to Blu-ray. Considering it’s length, the 50GB disc was a wise choice. The picture at times — captured on Arri digital cameras, at least as far as the end credits indicate — is gorgeous. Every detail is razor sharp, with a great amount of shadow delineation. Crush is never an issue, even if at times the blacks are never as dark as they could be. It’s a good thing here though, as you can always see what’s going on, no matter how much you might not want to at times. I did catch a few seconds of fleeting banding in one of the earlier scenes, but it never rears its head again.
Greens are extra lush while blood reds are dark and shiny, no blooming or bleeding here. The Korean 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track could have been a little better. Once you get the volume adjusted, dialogue and sound effects are never drowned out by the score. It’s just a shame the mix is as front heavy as it is. Prioritization is always spot on when needed, and bass gets a good workout when the Shaman performs his exorcism ceremony. But it also holds the film back from being more terrifying. I can imagine how much scarier this would be in a theater. There is no additional audio tracks, but English subtitles are available.
Considering how good the film is, it’s a shame the special features are so scant. “The Beginning of The Wailing” (1:51) is a quick EPK with the director and cast discussing how much they wanted to be involved with the production. It was nice to hear Hong-jin mention that he wanted to build on different genres’ strengths to diminish their weaknesses, because that’s exactly what he does. “Making Of” (4:56) concretes that the director set out to make a very stylized slow burn and discusses how long it took to shoot the film. Shooting on-location, they had to literally carry the rain machines with them through the mountains, along with battling the weather. We also learn it took days to film some scenes, and a total of 18 months — six months of production and 12 months of pre-production — to complete the project. The film’s trailer (1:54) rounds things out. The disc also comes front-loaded with previews for Train to Busan, Kill Your Friends, and Black Coal, Thin Ice.
Horror fans — especially those of the exemplary foreign market — will find a lot to love with The Wailing. At first they may not be sure exactly what it is they’re watching as the tones shift around so quickly. But the film stands as far more than the sum of its parts. Featuring stellar video, the best advice would be to make sure you have enough time on your hands and sit back and enjoy the ride. The Wailing is one you won’t soon forget.