Gokseong (The Wailing). 2016. South Korea. Written and directed by Na Hong-jin. With Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee. In Korean, English. 156 min.
Dead animals and shambling, homicidal locals are merely the first signs that something is seriously amiss in the tranquil mountain forests of Gokseong, South Korea—a festering sickness that courses beneath the stunning natural beauty. A rash of strange and gory incidents pulls a pair of bumbling cops—our ostensible hero, Jong-goo, and his buddy Oh Seong-bok—into the mystery, and a combination of circumstantial evidence and small-town distrust of foreigners points to a reclusive Japanese man who lives in the mountains. Is this interloper the demon behind the creeping threat, or is he the best chance to ward off evil? When it becomes apparent that his daughter is the next victim of the uncanny plague, Jong-goo’s fear and affability are replaced with a violent desperation, and he terrorizes the hermit and calls in a showy shaman who may do more harm than good. Will Jong-goo’s clouded judgment spell doom for his family and the village? Alternately hilarious and deadly serious, Na Hong-jin’s horror epic packs in several films’ worth of zombies, demons, ghosts, and exorcisms, yet the insidious rot at the film’s core is, ultimately, mundanely human, as the supernatural threats do less damage than the villagers’ xenophobia.