South Korea

The Wailing

A strange Japanese man arrives at a small village in South Korea. Soon after, people begin to go mad and kill their families. A local cop is assigned to these strange cases. His own daughter eventually starts to exhibit the same symptoms as the others who went mad. With the help of his friends, a priest and a shaman, the cop does whatever he can to stop the Japanese stranger from harming his daughter, or anyone else in town.

The Wailing is the second great Korean horror film I have seen this year. Similarly to Train to Busan, the focus of this film is the relationship between a father and his young daughter. Once the daughter is thrown into peril we see the father grow as a person and try to rescue her. The father adds a comedic aspect to the beginning of the film up until the point when his daughter gets sick. From there the film takes a more serious turn. It also does an interesting job of blending different types of mythology. There are satanic rituals, shamanism, ghosts and spirits, a zombie-like illness, and possession. The filmmakers expertly weave all of these aspects together into a chilling, and often times humorous, story. The only issue I had with the plot is that the ending felt a bit convoluted. It seems like the filmmakers are trying to insert too many twists and turns to the point where the audience is left with one too many questions.

This film has multiple amazing performances that lure the audience into the story. One standout is Do-wan Kwak (The Berlin File) as the cop and father, Jong-Goo. The fact that his portrayal of Jong-Goo shows him as a rather dopey and fearful cop who finds his strength when his daughter is in danger feels natural and compelling. Do-wan Kwak manages to make me laugh and make me feel compassion for Jong-Goo and his family. I also love Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill: Vo. 1 and 2) as the stranger. He doesn’t have many speaking scenes until later in the film, but it is hard not to feel his presence. With just a stare, Kunimura is able to send chills down my spine and add to the unsettling ambience of the film.

The effects of this film are subtle, which works well with the story. The infected people first get strange rashes. These rashes eventually cover the whole body, and the eyes of the infected turn white before they become violent. The rashes are grotesque and very well done. One scene involves an infected person having a convulsive fit that results in a bone protruding from the skin. It is disgusting, but also beautiful in how they are able to achieve it with the practical effects. There is another scene at the climax of the film that involves a different kind of transformation. This one I can’t get into too much detail for, but it is one of the most unnerving scenes in the entire film.

While The Wailing isn’t my favorite Korean horror film I have seen this year, it is definitely a memorable one. It has a unique and intricate plot that will keep you hooked through to the end, which is impressive considering it is over two and a half hours long. While the climax does get a bit tangled and confused, it still makes for a riveting mystery. This is another film to add to the rather long list of great foreign films that have come out in the past year. It will appeal to a multitude of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Train to Busan

A father who works too much barely knows or spends time with his daughter. For her birthday all she wants is to go stay with her mother in Busan. The father reluctantly agrees to take her in order to make amends for his lack of presence in her life. Soon after the train leaves the station an infected person spreads a zombie virus throughout the train. The survivors must try to get to a safe station to escape from the zombies on board, as well as to avoid the rapid spread of the virus happening across the country.

Train to Busan is a very well done zombie film. The main thing I look for in a zombie film is not only that it is exciting and gory, but that it shows the truth about human nature. This film does an excellent job of showing that humans are the worst monsters during the zombie outbreak. There is a dynamic group of characters that demonstrate the many sides of human nature. Some sides are good, some are borderline evil. The characters are also very well developed. Especially when looking at the father and daughter, the audience is quickly captivated by their relationship and rooting for them to survive through these horrific events. It is also fascinating to watch their relationship develop, and how the father develops as a person, as they ford their way through the zombie outbreak.

Having a grasp of social issues can’t be the only successful aspect of a great zombie film. There has to be a lot of action as well. As if zombie films aren’t already intense and exciting, this film ramps up the sense of urgency by having the film set on a train. The claustrophobic feeling, coupled with the fear of zombies and infection, makes for an adrenaline filled two hours. The filmmakers decided to go with swift moving zombies, which works well for this film. Fast zombies in an enclosed space definitely makes for some cringe-worthy scenes.

There are so many standout performances in this film that it is hard to narrow down. Since the film focuses primarily on the story of the father and daughter, I will highlight their performances. Yoo Gong (The Age of Shadows) portrays the father, Seok Woo. Not only does Gong do an excellent job, but his character also has one of the more compelling story arcs. With the help of his daughter Seok Woo goes from being an absentee father, to a man who will go through anyone to protect his daughter, to a good person who realizes he must try to save everyone. It is a fascinating and realistic progression that Yoo Gong brings to life. Soo-An Kim (Mad Bad Sad) is phenomenal as the daughter, also named Soo-An. She is clearly the heart of this film and shows the good that can come out of stressful situations. She is meant to shine as the exact opposite of the evil parts of human nature, and Soo-An Kim shows us that in spades. She is another example of the many great child actors that have come out of the woodwork this year.

The look of the zombies in this film is really unsettling (in the best way). The zombies have black veining, their eyes are whited out, and they move in exceedingly creepy ways. The zombies do a lot of jerking movements and arch their backs in inhuman ways. These are also very fast and strong zombies. Once they catch sight of you, you better run. While most of the scenes on the train are of human actors with zombie makeup and contorted bodies, many of the wider shots outside the train utilize CGI. I understand why CGI was used for many of the scenes where hordes of zombies are falling all over each other and falling out of windows. That would take a lot of stunt work and insurance policies to achieve with real actors. It unfortunately also takes away from the realism that is felt throughout most of the film. The CGI made it nearly impossible not to draw a connection to the zombies from World War Z, although I can say that Train to Busan far surpasses that film.

Train to Busan is a thrilling and gory zombie flick with a lot of heart. I’m not afraid to admit that it even made me cry. There are honestly very few things I can say about the film that are negative, aside from the bit of CGI use. It is exciting, scary, intense, bloody, and it brings up the many sides of human nature. The more social/political aspects of the film even feel reminiscent of the older Romero zombie films. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you gasp, and it will make you cringe. This is one of the better zombie films of the past decade.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10