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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.21.16] Republic of Korea thriller mystery

Hadn't had this much fun watching horror in a long time. As far as opening lines go, this is one you haven't seen often. Call it saturation of the market, or a distaste born out of growing old, but the last attempts I made in this particular field of pop-culture ended badly. "Not even worth reviewing or ever mentioning"-bad. The Wailing is something different, something worth praise.

The main theme is one of the oldest tricks in the book, the fear of others. When a sudden and curious epidemic breaks out in the Korean country side, quickly escalating in symptoms from "boils and sores" to "kill your family with a machete while foaming at the mouth," the culprit is instantly designated by the community: the only foreigner. Pitchforks obviously ensue. Nothing really new under the sun, we did the same with the little green men from the red planet.

Now where it definitely gets interesting is in the treatment, mostly the balance of comedy and horror. Everything starts out more or less like a Three Stooges procedural. Despite the gruesome murder used as an opener, the first half is mostly hilarious musings on the influence of gossip in rural policing with the actual horror being instilled drips by drips into the solution until there's nothing else left.

The main character is a rational if somewhat clueless police officer, doing his best to keep a modicum of seriousness in the case when everyone around him keeps blabbering about curses, ghost and the Japanese demon living in the woods. Until his own offspring gets the sickness and, once the medical options are spent, he gives into the mass hysteria that's swept the village and pursues each and every conceivable way to save her, however ludicrous. This quest culminating in the most incredible and gripping exorcism scene to ever grace a screen.

Of course there is the forensically shot carnage, the mangled bodies, mutilations and a fair share of body horror and convulsions in the afflicted but that's not where the real horror lies in this one, it's just genre convention, there's something else far more frightening than all the demons you can conjure with prosthetics and CGI: having a child you can't cure.

Now there's horror. There's something that can drive anyone crazy, a helplessness that throws rationality out of the window in favor of hope, however thin or fleeting. I remember only too well my own mother rubbing whatever snake-oil she could find unto my scalp to prevent me from losing my hair when I was on chemo. Useless yet magical enough for her to keep sane during the first month...

That incredible mix between comedy and horror, be it fantastical or real-life, is one of the many highlights of a brilliant feature.

Don't miss it.

Recommended Release: I Saw the Devil

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