Sublime: The Wailing

The Wailing (2016)
Written and directed by Hong-jin Na
Produced by Suh Dong Hyun, Ho Sung Kim, Xian Li, John Penotti, Robert Friedland
Starring Do-won Kwak, So-yeon Jang, Jun Kunimura, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim, Jung-min Hwang, Kang-gook Son, Do-yoon Kim, Jin Heo, Seong-yeon Park, Chang-gyu Kil, Bae-soo Jeon, Mi-nam Jeong, Gwi-hwa Choi

“It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.”

–H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916

Attentive viewers (especially those versed in Catholic scripture and Korean folk sortilege) will best appreciate the innuendo of Na’s creepingly circuitous chiller, but such insights can’t conduce prospicience of its outcome. A village’s police are confounded when locals are sanguinely slain by ensorcelled relatives, who then succumb to grisly afflictions. This unaccountable spate coincides with sightings of an earthy, impertinent beauty (Chun) and an old Japanese (Kunimura), the latter of whom is a subject of macabre and concordant scuttlebutt. When the daughter (Kim) of the force’s sluggardly sergeant (Kwak) manifests incipient behavioral and dermal symptoms common to the doomed murderers, he’s desperate to interrogate both strangers. Refreshing restraint and professional calculation characterize Na’s masterly direction, which discloses minimally in slow zooms and pans as his plotted convolutions gradually unravel, without ever relaxing the intensity of his drama or action. By Kyung-pyo Hong’s photography, South Korea’s sylvestrian beauty is blazoned in establishing landscapes, and many figures are strikingly limned in silhouette and shadow. The cast is exceeding, but its concerted excellence admits of certain standouts. Kunimura’s internationally recognized for his versatility as villains and victims alike; his stony stare and mutable mien here sustain his loner’s imperative mystique. A dynamically antipodal approach by Hwang to a shaman hired by Kwak’s deviled officer informs his energic exorcism preceding the movie’s centerpiece, a clamorously violent, elaborate, apotropaic rite not to be forgotten. Kim’s metamorphosis from sweet schoolgirl into maledicted malefactor recalls Linda Blair’s most famous role — and she interprets it with analogous anguish and audacity. All of the seven deadly sins are committed, but their significance is primarily representative. Na’s moral compass is pragmatically oriented, indicating how obtuse skepticism, inaction, misjudgment, and hysteria result in a small, appalling tragedy. These misdeeds frustrate the talismanic and lustrative white magic that might’ve dashed demonomagy conjured by and thriving for vice, folly, and confusion.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Exorcist.

Palatable: Train to Busan

Train to Busan (2016)
Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Written by Sang-ho Yeon, Joo-Suk Park
Produced by Dong-Ha Lee, Yeon-ho Kim, Woo-taek Kim
Starring Yoo Gong, Su-an Kim, Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jung, Gwi-hwa Choi, Eui-sung Kim, Woo-sik Choi, Ahn So-hee, Soo-jung Ye, Myung-shin Park, Seok-yong Jeong, Hyuk-jin Jang
Conformable to the deadly undead of O’Bannon’s and Boyle’s classics, twitching, predatory zombies in Yeon’s first live-action feature rush ravenously to bloodily propagate their pandemic, imperiling within its cramped linear quarters a bullet train’s passengers (Ma, Jung, Choi, So-hee, et al.), who can only survive by manipulating the ghouls’ cognitive limitations and stimuli. Trauma and teamwork educe an uncharacteristic heroism in one such traveler, a callous careerist (Gong) in transit with his daughter (Kim); in slightly unlike circumstances, one cruelly unscrupulous executive (Kim) inversely preserves himself at the fatal expense of his acquaintances. With substantial characters credibly rendered by a solid cast, inventive suspense tautened in a swift situational succession, and action deftly choreographed, shot and cut, this glossy international hit justifies both its hype and sociopersonal themes as overt as Romero’s to chastise corporate cupidity and baneful self-interest with characterizations more believable than any that celebrated, satirical schlockmeister ever penned. A horde of flailing and gnashing supernumeraries complement the leads well with uninhibited mordacity, especially in a few instances when their numbers swell scrambling, scrabbling, snarling by dint of CG superior to conspicuously artificial graphics beheld in Hollywood’s overbudgeted, superheroic trash. That this past decade’s only zombified flick worth watching is a South Korean production seems unavoidable, and though some of its sentiment’s sweetened saccharine by that schmaltz from Seoul during heartfelt moments and especially its emotive climax, it’s relatively palatable when expressed by a refreshingly appealing dramatis personae unimaginable in a contemporary, major motion picture produced anywhere in the Anglosphere. Even better, Yeon dispenses with that slush for a truly moving conclusion.

Recommended for a double feature paired with 28 Days Later or Seoul Station, Yeon’s animated prequel.