Cannes 2016: Goksung [The Wailing]

I covered Cannes Film Festival this year, and I will be posting my reviews here weekly. My pieces are on a website known as The Upcoming and have been published in something called Swipe magazine.

This narratively unbalanced and frankly unhinged picture by Cannes favourite Na Hong-Jin includes frightful plagues, demonic possessions, gruesome zombies, appalling massacres – and mushrooms. The first act plays out like a surreal comedy, before the film descends into a thumping, incessant and horrific drama. Rain powers down, the bloodshed mounts and the wailing grows louder. For much of the end section, the noise is deafening. There is little time to take in the remarkable tonal shift, and by the point the battling shamans attempt to expel the devil it is easy to forget the buddy cop movie that was developing in the opening stages.

High up in the mountains of South Korea, cowardly policeman Jong-Goo (a permanently spluttering Kwak Do-Won) begins investigating a series of mysterious and grotesque murders. Previously upstanding citizens appear driven insane and possessed to butcher their families. The arrival of a Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura) in the hills – a very explicit display of the other – causes concern among the villagers that this distant, taciturn man is behind the various attacks. Jong-Goo’s young daughter becomes possessed and begins wreaking her own special type of havoc. Under pressure from his mother, Jong-Goo employs a local shaman named Il-Gwang (in a ridiculous, fantastic, over-the-top performance from Hwang Jun-Min) to ward off the evil spirits that have overcome his child. Meanwhile, a mysterious young woman in white (Chun Woo-Hee), who ghosts intermittently about the wreckage, appears to have supreme powers of her own.

To make too much sense of the plot is perhaps a mistake. The enterprise, detail and expansiveness of Goksung is an experience to behold. The audio and visual effects are stunning, particularly in the shaman hex sequences, where the drumbeat and choreography merge to produce something resembling nausea. There is a tendency for the dialogue to tell you precisely what you are seeing – “there’s been a power cut again!” – and the film’s rapidly building insanity takes a large amount of goodwill to accept. But the dramatic denouement certainly resonates. Whether this is due to sensory overload or dramatic skill, however, is open to dispute.


Published by

Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

3 thoughts on “Cannes 2016: Goksung [The Wailing]”

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