The Wailing


All the painful deliberation of a police procedural which makes the central descent less obvious, more inevitable, hence the exhaustion that smoulders away at the core of The Wailing. This mock-procedural shambles through the events rather than dictating them, although confusingly, The Wailing is just as much about making decisions as it is about having them made for you by some unknowable external force. This is why it is such a terrifying film. In my engagement with fiction I do not care about the purported consistency of a character’s motivations, and in fact I rarely care about characters or motivations at all really. The Wailing however makes character motivation so important that it cannot be ignored, even as it turns up its sad grim nose at anyone who invests too much in the notion of an individual’s free will within a vacuum. There are crucial moments where it feels as though Jong-goo is about to make an important decision that will alter the world around him, almost like a flowchart, but in retrospect we wonder whether he had any say at all. Jong-goo stares down from the clifftop of possibility over and over again and feels sick with Kierkegaard’s ‘dizziness of freedom’ like a fool trying to do something good for once, but his situation is more analogous to Schopenhauer’s image of the falling leaf thinking to itself “now i’ll blow left, now I’ll blow right” (also a recurring gag in the autumn stretches of the typically bleak Peanuts). In a sense this alleviates the pressure of the individual given that all they can do is react to what came before them and hope for the best, but in The Wailing the devil is winning and he’s taking everyone you love to hell with him. Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil is comparable for its relentless bludgeoning of the viewer into tired submission, but that film walks with malevolent elegance while The Wailing makes pretend slapstick clumsiness. This is at odds with its visual beauty and the aforementioned deliberation of its unfolding, which hints at a world so considered that The Wailing’s 2.5 hours feels like we’ve spent 10+ in an unfathomably good TV show. Again, this is sadistic because it is all to say that nothing is in our control, that everything can be lost on the devil’s whim, and of course no matter how much we cry that will only be the start because something worse awaits when we realise that we can never save anyone- silence, not wailing.

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