Less than a few weeks after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, Na Hong-Jin’s sprawling 156-minute epic, The Wailing arrives in theaters this weekend. Set up against a rainy Korean village, we open upon officer Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) one morning as he gets called into the crime scene of a suspicious homicide like no one has ever seen before. What strikes the audience even before our characters — begin to boggle over the site of it — is the rather unpleasant rash that’s covered the killer like a tablecloth on a dining room table.
As the days go on and on, similar cases of murder begin to pop up all throughout the village, each with one defining factor like the detectives have never seen before: every killer possesses this strange boil-y rash. Rumors quickly begin to spread as to what could have possibly caused this outbreak, which where things began to lose me. Na’s attempt at implementing commentary about the fear-mongering that the media brings upon society fails to bring any originality to a topic we’ve seen arise time and time again. Nothing particularly strikes out as fresh. Instead, the film gets bogged down as everything begins to repeat itself as Na slowly works his way up to his climax.
What makes The Wailing unsuccessful above all is the lack of any real emotion to any of what’s going on here. Whether it be the relationship between Jong-gu and his daughter or just with the epidemic itself, all of this just comes across far too direct for my liking. Na crafts and establishes the general environment of his protagonist’s surroundings with such remarkable precision from the start that everything feels like a dramatic step-down in comparison.
By the time Na finally gets around to the real excitement that he has been gradually building up to, all of the intrigue that I had as Jong-gu arrived at the first crime scene had been long diminished. Despite always remaining visually stimulating, The Wailing loses steam just as quick as the death rate goes up.