*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

The supernatural breaks in  

by
09 December 2016

Stephen Brown considers a battle for the soul

Investigation: the detective steps into a fraught situation in The Wailing

Investigation: the detective steps into a fraught situation in The Wailing

WHEN sickness starts spreading in The Wailing (Cert. 15), the villagers of Gokseong, South Korea, connect it to the arrival of a Japanese man living in the forest near by. I don’t suppose he helps the situation by grotesquely leaping around in various guises and frightening the locals.

Things go from bad to worse. Quite irrationally, and in brutal fashion, people start killing one another. The victims seem to come back to haunt the living. Bearing in mind that the film begins with a quote from Luke 24.37-39 — the risen Christ refuting the disciples’ belief that he is a ghost — we are being led to believe that those murdered remain tangible beings, complete with flesh and bones.

Sergeant Jong-Goo (Kwak Do Wan) is investigating the case with a colleague in a scenario where distinguishing the living from the dead takes much of one’s attention. It is also a place of thunderstorms, lightning, and almost continuous rain: portents of a world experiencing the severe disruption of normality. Why it should be so is never adequately explained. It just is. And perhaps that is the key to Na Hong-jin’s opus. There are more questions than answers.

His previous films include The Yellow Sea and The Chaser, both big hits in their native territory and receiving much acclaim at international festivals. While there are clear religious references in those films, The Wailing approaches in a wildly head-on fashion the mysteriousness of existence. A country where nearly half its citizens declare themselves as having no religion may not be well-equipped to deal with what appears to be the supernatural. As such, it can by default be left to the rest of the South Koreans (of whom twice as many are Christians rather than Buddhists) to make claims for this aspect to be taken seriously.

Na vacillates between detective-story and lynch-mob antics, ultimately plumping for the occult horror genre. Two-and-a-half hours of bangs and fangs, crashes and flashes are generally effective. The viewer’s suspension of disbelief lies elsewhere, with the sergeant’s slow-wittedness. It is only when terrible things start to happen to his daughter (the actress Kim Hwan-hee) that he catches on. Gokseong, we have a problem.

At this point, he enlists not only a shaman, but a probationary Roman Catholic priest. The latter is mainly seconded because he speaks some Japanese, and can intercede with the stranger in the woods. The exorcism that follows is likely to have viewers bewildered about how they would handle apparent demonic-possession themselves. Is it a case of any port in a storm for the hapless detective? If it does not do any good, then at least it won’t do any harm to undergo such extravagant indigenous rituals, which long precede the arrival of Christianity. Tellingly, the Roman Catholic Church stays aloof from all this, leaving us to wonder whether it has anything to offer.

The gospel text with which the film begins would suggest that there is an element to life that transcends what passes for so-called reality. There is a continual battle for the soul going on, one that rationality alone cannot comprehend or resolve. But, Na is asking, what will take its place?

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

24 May 2022
Disability and Church: Intersectionality
A joint webinar from HeartEdge and Church Times.

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

More events

Job of the Week

Clerical

Priest in Charge (Rector Designate)

London and Home Counties

Our suburban parish on the border between the London Borough of Croydon and the lovely Surrey countryside and with a spacious modern Rectory, is seeking a Priest-in-Charge (Rector Designate) to lead our church as we seek to fulfil our mission to proclaim Jesus, change lives and serve our community.   We are looking for a leader who, with energy and dynamism, who will develop the vision for the church to enable the children and families work to be a priority in order to grow the church both in numbers and spiritual maturity. In addition, the new person will care and tend for the existing ageing congregation many of whom have ¬faithfully served the church for many years.   The person we are looking for should have: strong communication skills, the ability to engage and encourage people across the age ranges and to convey the church’s mission, vision and priorities; a commitment to preach the Word of God in thoughtful and stimulating ways; an energy and dynamism probably more extrovert than introvert; a pastoral heart, showing empathy and good listening skills, the ability, willingness and experience to help us to develop and enjoy a variety of worship styles, including a wider range of musical worship and a deeper corporate prayer life -whilst recognising and valuing our heritage;   For further information and to apply, please click the 'apply for this job' button below.   For an informal conversation with the Archdeacon of Croydon, please contact the Archdeacon’s PA Kathleen.bailey@southwark.anglican.org to arrange a time for a phone conversation.   Closing Date: Sunday 12 June 2022 Parish Visit for shortlisted candidates: Monday 11 July 2022 Interviews: Monday 11 July 2022   Please note we have a policy in Southwark Diocese that to be appointed to an incumbent status post, a priest must have served a title in an Anglican church in the British Isles.   This post is subject to DBS enhanced disclosure

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)