Features and Columns · Movies

Why the Horror of ‘The Wailing’ Hinges on Ambiguity

Time to dig into the bones of a film that really lives up to its name.
The Wailing Horror
Well Go USA
By  · Published on April 29th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that takes a look at how the 2016 South Korean horror film The Wailing uses ambiguity to terrify us.

Despite being one of the greatest horror films of the 21st Century thus far, The Wailing has a couple barriers to entry. The first, and most obvious, is that its runtime is nearly three hours long. The second, related, hurtle is that the film manages to maintain and build suspense for each minute of its 2h 36m length.

Written and directed by Na Hong-jinThe Wailing is the cinematic equivalent of suffocating for the duration of a short-haul flight. But that’s part of the appeal. A soul-crushing and stomach-churning nightmare, The Wailing tells of a mysterious sickness that has struck a small, rural village in the mountainous woods of South Korea. The disease is sudden, rabies-like, and 100% fatal. Assigned to the case is Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won), a bumbling family man who becomes personally invested when his daughter contracts the sickness. Soon, Jong-goo finds himself wrapped up in a far more sinister conspiracy; a waking nightmare of shamanic rituals, ghostly visitations, and suspicious outsiders.

As the video essay below argues, rather convincingly, the key to what makes The Wailing so darn scary is its use of ambiguity. It’s not that monsters or events are illegible or confused. Instead, the film purposefully uses cinematic storytelling to manipulate the audience’s sense of reality itself. From its innovative deployment of over-use horror tropes to editing that intentionally hides clues in plain sight, The Wailing is a daunting but thoroughly rewarding watch that lives up to its name.

The video bellow contains spoilers for The Wailing.

Watch “Ambiguous Horror of The Wailing”:

Who made this?

This video essay on how ambiguity is central to the horror of The Wailing is by Spikima Movies, a Korean-Canadian who’s been dropping gems on YouTube since 2019. You can subscribe to Spikima’s channel for more incredible essays here. And you can follow them on Letterboxd here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).