Wailing is a South Korean thriller directed by Na Hong-jin. It’s not a classic horror flick featuring jumpy moments, and that’s a good thing. While it might be a little lengthy, it packs in elements of the supernatural and suspense right up to the end. After getting a whole bunch of requests, I finally set some time to write this article. Here’s the Korean film The Wailing explained, spoilers ahead.
The Japanese Stranger:
This man is someone who’s possessed by evil. He’s not a manifestation of evil. He’s most likely a shaman who has been taken over by the evil spirit. (Rumours are that he was a university professor or a monk).
He is the shaman that the villagers go to when they need to perform an exorcism on a family member.
She is the good spirit, the protector of the village. I’ll go on a limb and say that just like Il-gwang and the Stranger, Moo-myung is someone who is possessed by a good spirit.
The Truth: What’s been happening in the village?
Well, there are urban legends of an evil Japanese Stranger who was seen eating animals. And that the village has started noticing strange things ever since the Stranger showed up. These claims are considered invalid by most people. But, the Stranger is, in fact, collecting souls for the evil spirit. Il-gwang is working in tandem with the Stranger by misdirecting the village people. Moo-myung is trying her best to protect the villagers and their souls. Typically this is how it goes down:
- The Stranger steals an object of the victim and curses it.
- The victim then develops a rash and begins acting strangely.
- Moo-myung tries to protect the victim.
- The family of the victim ends up asking Il-gwang to perform an exorcism.
- Under the pretext of an exorcism, Il-gwang performs a ritual that undoes the protection of Moo-myung and enables a pathway for the evil spirit to possess the victim.
- The evil spirit takes over the victim who then proceeds to kill the people in his/her family and neighbourhood.
- Once this is done, either the Stranger or Il-gwang arrive and take a photograph of the victim. This photograph seems to be the way they reap souls. I know, it’s a touch too technological, but let’s go with that for now.
- The next victim is picked.
The film opens with Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) going to the scene of a mass-murder. They have arrested a guy who’s apparently stabbed and killed everyone. This guy seems infected. They think it’s because he ate some bad mushrooms. They then follow the trail into another home where Jong-goo sees dried flowers. This is a trap that was laid by Moo-myung which hasn’t worked. We’ll get to this trap at the end.
At the police station, they face a power outage. Just then they see a woman staring inside, wearing no clothes. By the time they go out, she leaves.
Jong-goo is later shown banging his wife in a car, and his daughter witnesses this. He then buys his daughter a ton of things so she’d remain quiet about it. She’s indifferent to the matter because she’s watched them before and assures her dad that she would not tell anybody (it would save him the embarrassment in that small town). It makes me wonder if the “wife” is a step-mother to Jong-goo’s daughter. There is little that is shown in the film to establish a mother-daughter relationship. However, this is also not really significant.
The next day, a house is burned down by a woman who has killed her family. Jong-goo sees the Stranger there. Later he connects that it was the naked woman from the previous night who has burned down her house. She was also affected by the rashes as confirmed by other witnesses. In short, she was also possessed and taken by the evil spirit thanks to the Stranger.
Moo-myung later meets Jong-goo and warns him saying that if he’s been seeing the Stranger more often than before, it means he’s being hunted. She leaves. Jong-goo thinks that she’s some crazy person. But, like she mentions, Jong-goo’s daughter falls sick. She’s the next in line. The Stranger has taken her shoes for the cursing.
Jong-goo meets a person who claims to be a witness to the Stranger eating animals in the woods wearing cloth underwear. So they go to the woods to find out more and see the carcass of a dead tiger. The witness gets struck by lightning and is admitted to the hospital. There is something mentioned about the witness having hunted an eaten a lot of meat from the woods which seems to have saved him. I’m not really sure if this is meant to be a joke. Someone, please do drop a comment if you can elaborate. Right after, another patient pukes blood and dies. He’s been claimed by evil.
At home, Jong-goo’s daughter begins acting strangely, eating a lot of fish. The Jong-goo’s mother-in-law suggests that they should bring in a shaman to perform an exorcism.
Jong-goo meets with a Japanese translator who also happens to be a pastor. They go to the Stranger’s house and get attacked by his dog. Inside, they find photos of all the people who had been infected and after they had died. They don’t know what to make of it, but they understand that something is really off with the Stranger, and he’s somehow connected to all the deaths. Jong-goo’s daughter’s shoe is also found amongst other items.
Jong-goo questions his daughter about meeting the Stranger. His daughter lashes out at him all crazy. He leaves and comes back later at night to see that she has rashes too. She wakes up and lashes out at him more till they have to restrain her. His mother-in-law tells him that she’s already contacted Il-gwang.
Confronting The Stranger
Jong-goo goes back to the Stranger’s house and confronts him. In the process, he ends up killing his dog. He then tells the Stranger to leave the village in 3 days. Jong-goo’s daughter commits her first murder, the neighbour.
Il-gwang arrives and locates a vat with a dead raven. This is something placed by Moo-myung to protect the family. Il-gwang initially says that the Japanese person is a ghost and arranges for an exorcism. He mentions that the ritual is “out-of-body” and mustn’t be interrupted at any cost. This ritual is a guise for overpowering Moo-myung’s protection and allows for possession of Jong-goo’s daughter. At this point, we can see that Il-gwang also wears a similar undergarment like the Japanese Stranger.
Meanwhile, a farmer kills his entire family and throws them in a well. Same story of the rashes.
The next day, Il-gwang conducts the ritual. While the audience is made to believe that Il-gwang is targeting the Stranger, he’s merely allowing the possession of Jong-goo’s daughter. The Stranger is doing a ritual of his own to possess a dead guy in a truck. In fact, the evil moves from the Stranger to the dead-truck-guy, at least temporarily. Moo-myung finds the Stranger and allows him to run because she knows that he’s not got the evil spirit inside him anymore. Jong-goo interrupts Il-gwang’s ritual and takes his daughter to a hospital. The interruption keeps his daughter safe for the while.
Next morning, he assembles a gang and goes out on a hunt for the Stranger. They run into the dead-truck-guy who seems indestructible. But eventually squirms and dies. I suppose the evil spirit leaves him. Just then they spot the Stranger and chase him. They lose him over the cliffs. Notice how the Stranger is afraid, he is not possessed at this moment. As they drive back, Jong-goo loses control of his truck and swerves. As he does, a person lands on his windshield. They step out and see that it is the Stranger that they were chasing. This is bait, and Jong-goo takes it. He and his men throw the Stranger’s body over the cliff and kill him. He commits a sin and Moo-myung, who watches on, loses the ability to protect his daughter. His daughter gets better, but it is only temporarily. They take her back home.
A fellow cop and friend of Jong-goo gets infected and kills his family.
Il-gwang tries to reach Jong-goo but is unable to. He gets intercepted by Moo-myung who makes him bleed and puke excessively and asks him to leave town. In fear, he gets into his car and drives away. Moo-myung has set a trap for the evil spirit, the flower. It is essential that Jong-goo shows trust in her. Only then, this trap will work. Jong-goo needs to stay out of the house. He sees the many missed calls from Il-gwang and reaches out.
Il-gwang, who was trying to leave town passes through a swarm of locusts and is forced to turn back. This is a call to him by the evil spirit. Il-gwang tells Jong-goo a lie that the Stranger is the good guy and that he was wrong about him. And that Moo-myung is the evil spirit. He asks Jong-goo to go straight home. He knows this will break the trap.
Moo-myung meets Jong-goo and tells him that if he goes home, everyone in his family will die. That the Stranger is using his family as bait and is waiting for him. And that the Stranger is not someone who can die. She also mentions about her trap and that it would work only if Jong-goo waits till three rooster crows before going home. She tells him that he has sinned by plotting to kill and killing and hence he must go through this test of faith.
He gets a call from Il-gwang telling him to go home. Jong-goo doesn’t know who to trust. Moo-myung holds his hand. It’s not clear what he feels, but she doesn’t seem human to him. He also notices his daughter’s hair clip and clothing of people who had died earlier. Moo-myung has these items because that is the way she’s able to counter the evil spell. But Jong-goo ends up thinking that she’s the evil one and runs back home.
Trap Broken, Evil Unleashed
The trap is broken because of this and everyone in the family is killed by his daughter. It’s not shown, but he too seems to have been mortally wounded by her. Moo-myung is helpless. As Jong-goo lies there dying, thinking about the good times with his daughter, Il-gwang returns to take pictures of the dead and also Jong-goo’s. He’s collecting his souls. We are shown the daughter covered in blood and sitting motionlessly outside. Il-gwang drives away and gets down from his car to check something and drops a box which reveals all the photos of dead people announcing to the audience that he’s working with the evil spirit too.
While these events transpire, the pastor locates the Stranger who is still alive in a cave. He goes there unaware of what to expect. The Stranger transforms to reveal a demon and kills the pastor after taking his photograph. At this point, this is the actual manifestation of evil and not through the Stranger. Evil will find another human conduit and continue to claim more souls.
Evil wins. The film ends.