There is one thing I really don’t like about you all. Like, at all. I’ve always been a huge movie fan. I worked in a video store back in high school and I loved wrapping myself in movies all day long. Literally. I had a big TV in my room and I let movies run 24/7 (hello I’m looking at you auto-rewinding VCRs!!) At the video store? Movies ran 24/7. And I had free access to the wildest and craziest movies of the day. Did I mention that I did the buying for the store and the owner of the store was always wondering what the heck I was buying for him. But there was always one genre I avoided. Horror. I dug thrillers. I dug dark movies. I loved some scary stuff. But man how I avoided horror movies. Poltergeist about wrecked me at the age of 12 when I first saw it. The Shining? Dang! But, oh, how I loved the movie Alien. Somehow they are different in my mind.
So yes, there is one thing I really really dislike about you all. Horror films. Oh, like Hereditary. And the Maus. Oh, and maybe The Ritual while we are at it. You guys throw them at me constantly. Evil demons. Demon possessions. Occult rituals. Blech! Gah! The definition of worst case scenario in my mind. And I love love love scary. Scary books. Scary movies. Stephen King is goodness in my mind. But horror films invariably skew towards spiritual occultism. Every time. I literally can’t think of a horror movie that isn’t tied to the occult. Pentagrams, rituals, and the like. (If you can you list some horror movies in the comments that have nothing to do with paganism I’d be your friend forever. I’m sure they exist, but I just can’t think of any right now. It’d be an interesting exorcise (see what I did there? Exercise/exorcise? Oh, never mind.) But you guys throw all kinds of horror at me all the time. And that’s what you did with this movie today – The Wailing (even sounds horrifying!!) You sent it to me via email, IMs, comments, you guys threw this movie at me over and over again.
So I watched it.
Oh, Holy Night. I did not like this movie. But you know what?!? I bet a lot of you did. So, because I am so abundantly selfless (cough) and so all about you (cough cough) I figured, alright, let’s talk about this movie together. But I am going to come with a different take on this movie than most. A very different perspective. But I did see a few tricks up this movie’s sleeve, I saw a few fun things worth talking about. But obviously I am dropping all kinds of spoilers here today. Personally? I don’t mind spoiling this move, but if you’d like to learning how the mechanics of the movie works? You better move along.
The Spiritual Characters of the Wailing Movie Explained
I’m not going to do a full story overview. Because blech. But basically, this is the money shot you were hoping for if you were curious what the heck happened in the movie. There are several different characters in this story we need to understand, and once we do, all should be clear.
The Japanese Man – played by Jun Kunimura – (which, the film calls him “The Jap”, and I am positive it is politically incorrect in the extreme to call someone a Jap. Just saying. And that is what this movie does beginning to end.) Who is a bad guy, then a good guy, and then a bad guy again. The Japanese man is the devil and he employs minions in order to have them do his bidding.
The Stranger – He is just a minion of The Japanese Man’s. He is employed to curse the victim and allow the Japanese Man to get a foot hold in the victim’s life.
Il-gwang – played by Jung-min Hwang – The Shaman, who seems to be very helpful to our hero and his family. But alas, he happens to be yet another of the Japanese Man’s minions just doing his bidding. So, although the locals consider the Shaman the source of power against the devil, he is actually attacking the good that might help at the end of the day.
Moo-myung- played by Woo-hee Chun – She is the woman in white. She seems to be the perpetual witness. And then she’s the bad guy, then the good guy. But actually, she is a God-like picture in this movie. Sort of. She has been habitually working to protect each victim and each family. But no one seems to be listening to her, like at all. (Huh… kind of like the real God. hahah. Sorry. Christian joke.)
The Ritual Cycle of The Wailing
As the movie opens, a “stranger” is seen throughout the village. He steals something from a victim, and curses it. Once cursed, the victim develops a rash. Moo-myung attempts to protect the victim. Eventually the family will ask Il-gwang to perform a ritual exorcism to cast the demon out. Instead of binding, or casting out, the Japanese Man, he is actually attacking the protection of Moo-myung. And then the evil spirit is able to possess the victim. And with the possession, comes the killing of the people in the family or the neighborhood. After the killing has occurred, the stranger or Il-gwang take a photo of the victims. (Remember, some cultures believe that photos can steal souls.) This happens multiple times throughout the course of the movie… while we watch various portions of this reoccurring cycle.
The Biblical Metaphors of The Wailing
The Stranger’s Blistering Boils – (Job 2:7) As the movie opens, we see that The Stranger morphs into this horrible visage, filled with boils and painful blisters. This could be seen as a picture of Job and the curse of painful skin boils given by Satan as a test of his love for God.
Rooster Crowing – (Mark 14:72) Moo Myung tells the cop that if he walks into his house that everyone in the house will die. That unless the rooster crows three times everyone will die. This is a direct corollary to Jesus telling Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed three times.
The Stoning – (John 8:59) Moo Myung throwing rocks at the cop, is a flash back to a number of stoning stories in the Bible. Prophets are regularly stoned. There was an attempted stoning of Jesus that he just slipped away from.
“Look at my hands, my feet.” – (John 20:27) When the priest character corners The Japanese Man, he asks to see his true form and then he’ll leave. And The Japanese Man quotes Jesus to Doubting Thomas… And sure enough, here too, The Japanese Man’s hand is pierced with the imprint of a nail.
There are many more, but you get the idea. Hong-jin Na, the writer, director, and editor of this film spent over a year editing it and crafting the film he wanted to make. He placed the scene with the cop, Jong-goo, doubting which way to go, who to believe precisely and succinctly. But I’ll get to that in a second. Hong-Jin Na is making a very very specific statement by placing the number of Biblical references in the movie that he has used. But what is he saying, what does it mean?
What Does The Wailing Mean?
When trying to understand a movie, always look closely to the hero. Jong-goo is our hapless hero in this movie. At the start of the film he plays a Keystone Cop idiot, but as the movie progresses, he too progresses. But when you watch the hero closely, you can learn a lot about what the writer/director are trying to say with their movie both positively and negatively.
Jong-goo sins early and often at the opening of the movie. The most obvious example is his having sex with the woman next door. His daughter catches him and doesn’t even give it a second thought he does it so often. And half way through the film, when they hit someone with his car, what do they all do? They throw him over the guardrail. Right? So while Jong-goo is a bit of an idiot, he’s a sinful idiot. He isn’t innocent in anyway. So, yeah, Jong-goo is you. He’s me. (Cause, let’s face it, you aren’t innocent… and neither am I.)
So fast forward two+ hours in. Here is our very very confused Jong-goo standing in front of this mysterious woman. The Shaman has promised him that the woman is the root of all evil. But she is telling him that if he goes to his house, every single member of his family will die. She’s laid a trap for the demon, and if he wants to live… wait until the rooster crows three times. Right?
Here is the crux of this movie. Who is the good guy. Who is the bad guy? If you grew up in the Christian Church you knew the answer, as I did. The Shaman was obviously a bad guy, there is no such thing as good voodoo. There is no such thing as a moralist Shaman. He even says so to Jong-goo, don’t have sex, don’t drink, or this $10,000 death hex might backfire. Right? Playing with demons is ALWAYS bad. So here we have Jong-goo trying to figure out this riddle. He’s desperate to save his daughter and his family. He’s doubting. He’s Peter. He’s lost his way, he’s lost his faith.
And so he leaves Moo-Myung. He walks away from the light, and heads through her tripwires and causes them to wilt. And when he walks in he finds his daughter has killed everyone. Soon? He’s hacked down at his daughter’s hands too. And instead of being given a chance at restoration and redemption (like Peter was given by Christ (John 21:7) when He asked him three times if he loved him.) he is cut down by his daughter after ruining Moo-Myung’s attempt to capture the spirit. And just like that, evil wins… because we knew it would.
Final Thoughts on The Wailing
I bitched and whined about The Wailing a literal crap ton at the opening of this post. Yes, I did. But I have to say that there was a lot to think about in here. And yet, it still was an occultist’s candyshop of horrors. I enjoyed the intentional Biblical references in an attempt to call out some parallels between this story and more well known Biblical stories. I was not a fan of the blood, the gore, or the deeply pentagramy moments, but I did find it fairly fascinating all the same.
Edited by, CY
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