A novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) has been writing short horror stories based on suggestions sent in by her readers. She gets a letter from Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), a student who has heard strange noises coming from her bedroom; swishing noises that sound like someone sweeping the tatami.
The nameless author remembers getting a similar letter a few years ago. . .when she finds it, she discovers that it was from a tenant in the same building. And that woman’s young daughter had acted as if she could see something. . . up near the ceiling. Then Kubo learns that another former resident of the building committed suicide shortly after moving somewhere else. (His landlady has a creepy story about the last time she saw him.)
Kubo and the writer start working together, trying to figure out what drove the man to kill himself. They look at old photos, land records and maps, and talk to old timers in the neighbourhood to learn about previous buildings where Kubo’s apartment block now stands, and the people who lived and sometimes died in them.
They go farther and farther back in time, and travel to other cities, too. They hear stories of apparent madness, fatal accidents, murder, and more suicides, all connected in some way. Restless spirits seem to be everywhere.
At one point, a young man who knows all about the ghost stories, rumours and gossip on Kyushu Islandcasually mentions that the locals think just hearing those stories will leave you cursed. Oh, oh! “Ah, a classic ghost story rule!” (or words to that effect) says the writer’s husband, knowingly.
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura also made Fish Story (2009), Golden Slumber (2010) See You Tomorrow, Everyone (2013) and The Snow White Murder Case (2014), which were all shown at previous editions of Fantasia. See Inerasable at the Fantasia international Film Festival on Friday, July 22, 2016, at 5 pm in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
“An old stranger appears in a peaceful rural village, but no one knows when or why. As mysterious rumours begin to spread about this man, the villagers drop dead one by one. They grotesquely kill each other for inexplicable reasons. The village is swept by turmoil and the stranger is subjected to suspicion.”
– Synopsis from the press kit for The Wailing.
Dread, murder, unexplainable events, irrational behaviour, gossip, rumours, nightmares, fear of the other, a large, fierce dog, big, black crows and mesmerizing rituals. That’s what you get in Korean horror film The Wailing (aka Goksung, 곡성).
I’ve wanted to see it ever since I read the rave reviews from the Cannes Film Festival. It did not disappoint! (The Cannes critics liked director Na Hong-jin’s earlier films The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, too.)
The Wailing is set in the beautiful, misty mountains of rural Korea, where people still live in old-fashioned homes with tile roofs. It looks like the kind of place where nothing much happens from one decade to the next.
A string of gruesome murders disrupts the tranquility and we watch as policeman Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) tries to figure out if and how they could be connected. While a newspaper headline blames the disorienting effects of poisonous wild mushrooms for the first murders, Jong-gu wonders if some kind of virus might be going around? (The presumed perpetrators all had horrible rashes.)
Then there’s gossip about a strange Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who lives in the forest. Some people are convinced that he’s evil, and responsible for the deaths, directly or indirectly. Supposedly he’s been seen wandering in the woods, half naked, chomping on dead animals. One woman says he’s a ghost, feeding on the spirits of the living. Any stranger could come under suspicion in an isolated community, but Japan’s earlier occupation of Korea would further complicate the way the locals view this interloper. Whoever or whatever he might be, a visit to his dwelling proves that he’s not just your everyday recluse.
Policeman Jeon Jong-gu is neither the suave, super cop of some films, nor the corrupt, crooked one of others, rather he’s an Everyman type; pudgy, and a bit of a doofus. After he gets a pre-dawn call to investigate the first murder scene he lets his wife and mother-in-law talk him into eating breakfast first – a few minutes more or less won’t make any difference to the dead, right? His boss and the other cops are not impressed when he finally shows up. Slacker!
Jong-gu seems rather indifferent to his wife (then again, this is not a romantic comedy) but he dotes on his cute young daughter, Hyojin (Kim Hwan-hee). Then she develops a rash too, and starts acting so much out of character that possession seems like a real possibility. When Jong-gu looks at her school notebook, it’s full of strange scribblings and scary drawings. (Have you seen The Babadook?) It also looks like it’s been mauled by a creature with long, sharp claws.
A mudang (shaman) is called in. The shaman is played by Hwang Jung-min and he’s great. I’ve seen shamanic rituals in many other Korean films but the ones here are exceptional, especially the second, longer, night-time one. (I read an article online that some people on the film set thought Hwang really was possessed.)
The Wailing is NOT one of those films where the villain confesses everything, or some expert explains it all before the credits roll. If you go with friends you could have some very interesting post-film discussions about what really happened, who was good and who was evil. The Internet is full of contradictory theories, with some people essentially saying “I’m right because I’m Korean!”
If you read those theories, bear in mind that director Na Hong-jin told the Korea Times: “I mulled over the ending and decided I had to leave it open.”
A final note: Sadly, we Montrealers don’t get to see many Korean films outside of film festivals. If you like the sound of The Wailing try to see it at Fantasia because it will be more impressive there, on a big screen, with a great sound system and the famous, enthusisatic Fantasia audience. Furthermore, some scenes take place at night or in murky interiors – you’ll be able to see them much better in the cinema.
The film is 156 minutes long, but doesn’t feel like it.
Director: Na Hong-Jin
Writer: Na Hong-Jin
Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura, Kim Hwan-hee, Chun Woo-hee
In Korean with English subtitles, 156 minutes long, showing at the Fantasia International Fim Festival Monday, July 18, 2016 at 9:35 p.m., in the hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montreal.
In July and August the Fantasia International Film Festival brings joy to Montreal film fans, and those who travel here, from far and wide, for that special Fantasia experience. Hors-festival, Fantasia also presents films at Cinéma du Parc on the third Thursday of the month. The Fantasia selection for February 18, 2016, the horror film The Witch, has been sold out since some time last week. That’s too bad for those who did not buy tickets in advance, because you couldn’t find a more enthusiastic group to watch a film with. Oh, well!
Montrealers can catch The Witch, in the original English, or dubbed into French, at various branches of the Cineplex Odeon chain, starting on Friday, February 19. In the downtown area, that means the Quartier Latin and ScotiaBank cinemas.
The Witch has attracted lots of attention since its first screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Directing Award at Sundance, First Feature Competition at the the 2015 London Film festival, Horror Jury Prize at the 2015 Austin Fantastic Fest Best Feature at the 2015 New Hampshire Film Festival. It’s also the “Most Anticipated of 2016” according to the Indiewire Critics’ Poll.
The film is set in New England of the 1630s. A family of recent immigrants is living on the edge of some scary woods. Life is is already very difficult, and when the youngest child, who’s just a baby, disappears under mysterious circumstances, things spiral downhill from there and family members turn on each other. Director Robert Eggers spent several years researching the era.
There are many articles on the Internet today about Jason Stange. He’s a convicted bank robber who broke his probation when he walked away from a halfway-house in July 2014; Stange was arrested on Friday, July 24, 2015, after he appeared in seven photos (!) accompanying a July 23 (online) article in Washington-state newspaper The Olympian, about low-budget horror film, Marla Mae, being shot in Centralia, Olympia and Tacoma. The article ran in the July 24 print edition of The Olympian.
Stange is an actor in the film, and while his name only appeared in the photo cutlines, not in the article itself, people who study that kind of thing will tell you that the first thing a newspaper reader looks at is the headline, and photos come right after.
I can’t help but wonder, WHAT was Stange thinking? Presumably, he did see the Olympian’s photographer, Tony Overman, taking the photos, and of course, Overman would have asked for the names of all the people in the photos.
Newspapers in many parts of the world have seen a decline in readership and advertising revenue, leading to layoffs and the widely held belief that “nobody reads newspapers anymore.” Did Stange believe that, too?
As for his role in the film itself, “15 minutes of fame” is a very well-worn concept by now. Maybe he thought that “filming while a fugitive” would be an extra cool and rebellious thing to do, a way to thumb his nose at the establishment, and an interesting footnote when they film is released. Oh, and his “professional name” is Jason Strange – an especially good name for horror roles, dont you think?
On the other hand, an article about Stange’s arrest, in the News Tribune of Tacoma, links to an arrest warrant which says that “(Stange) was ordered to pay a $4000 fine or face jail time. Mr. Stange reported he had no money to pay a fine and left.” So, maybe Stange was trying to earn the money to pay his fine. On the other, other hand, the film’s entire budget is only $8,000, so maybe not.
I learned of this story via The Guardian. A person using the name Eisenhorn made a comment there, saying: “Heh. The cynic in me says it might well have been one of the film’s producers who shopped him to the police, the resulting publicity being no bad thing :-)”
The people behind Marla Mae say they hope to release it next summer. Who knows, maybe it will turn up at Montreal’s own Fantasia International Film Festival, which is showing many kinds of genre films, including horror ones, right now. The Fantasia festival continues until Aug. 5, 2015.
I think RIDM started it, with its Docville series, but now many Montreal film festivals are treating us to films outside their official festival periods. Lucky us!
This week (Thursday, June 18, 2015) we can watch Wyrmwood, an Australian zombie film. Think of it as a pre-Fantasia event, or a Fantasia appetizer. Then again, perhaps not – do food and the lurching, snarling undead really belong in the same thought? Not for the queasy among us. (And that would be me, in case you’re wondering.)
Synopsis: “Zombies invade the Australian Outback in this brain-splattered, Mad Max-meets-the-undead thrill ride. When an apocalyptic event turns everyone around him—including his wife and daughter—into marauding zombies, everyman mechanic Barry arms himself to the teeth, soups up his car, and hits the road in order to rescue his sister from a deranged, disco-dancing mad doctor. Bursting with high-octane car chases, crazy-cool homemade weaponry, and enough blood-and-guts gore to satisfy hardcore horror fans, Wyrmwood – Road Of The Dead takes the zombie flick to bone-crunchingly berserk new heights.”
There are some laughs in the trailer for Wyrmwood but there’s lots more gore and splatter. Yeah, yeah, I know, for many of you, there’s no such thing as “too much gore and splatter.” You can’t even imagine that concept, can you?
(For instance, Rodrigo Suarez made a comment on the trailer. He says: “I’m gonna see this one! Looks great! I hope they don´t do too much comedy though.” Jason Harris asks a sensible question: “Wearing armor among flesh seeking zombies. Why don’t any of the characters from other zombie shows/films do this?” Yeah, why don’t they?)
I have read quite a few reviews of Wyrmwood, perhaps more than absolutely necessary, and excerpts below only represent a few of the reviews I read. (For me, film reviews can be more addictive than potato chips.)
When, Where and How Much might be all that hard-core zombie fans need to know. For you: Wyrmwood, Thursday, June 18, 2015, 9 p.m., Cinema Excentris, 3536 St-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2V1
Tickets can be bought online, at $12.57 for adults and $10/57 for students and those over 65. Prices include taxes.
Tickets will be available at the foor, too, as long as the event does not sell out. Buying online might be the prudent thing to do.
What do the critics say about Wyrmwood? Let’s see. . .
Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times has no problem mentioning zombies and eating in the same sentence. “. . .the deal breaker, as always with these films, lies in the cut of one’s giblets, and the Roache-Turners prove to have the right mix of micro-budget filmmaking ingenuity, action sass and undead splatter to make “Wyrmwood” a tastier than usual exploitation nosh.”
Peter Martin of Twitch says: “Wildly apocalyptic with dollops of silliness, Wyrmwood proves to be a splendidly gritty affair, a tale that feels like it’s being told from the back of a jeep as it races away from doomsday on a very bumpy road in Australia.”
Ambush Bug (also known as Mark L. Miller) writes: “Rarely do I see a movie which is entertaining from the very beginning up until the very end, but I saw just that with WYRMWOOD, a new zombie film from Australia. . . There is not a second of WYRMWOOD that isn’t in your face and running on all cylinders. . . it hits the ground running and never, ever stops for a breath until the end.” “Full of action that’ll make your heart flip and gore that’ll do the same to your stomach, WYRMWOOD is the next great thing in zombies.”
Rob Staeger of the Village Voice says: “Australian filmmakers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner remind us why we love these bloody movies in the first place, evincing Raimi-esque glee at twisting the rules of zombiehood like so much taffy.”
Brian Tallerico at rogerebert.com likes Wyrmwood a lot! “There’s a streamlined simplicity to Wyrmwood that’s admirable in an era when too many horror movies get cluttered with subplots and characters who wander into frame merely to be turned into goo. . .Horror is a genre in which homage can be more easily forgiven as a product of relatable love for the same movies. . .We like it when our horror movies don’t feel like merchandise as much as the result of a passion for the genre to which we can easily relate.” “Wyrmwood is not about narrative. It’s about in-your-face style, the kind where every punch, shot, and kick comes with an accompanying zoom, canted angle, and quick cut.”
Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter: “That zombie breath makes for a viable alternative fuel source is but one of the many revelations of Wyrmwood, the latest example of the horror genre that shows no signs of fading away. Kiah Roache-Turner’s zombie movie set in the Australian outback displays enough gonzo elements to please genre fans, with its resemblance to the Mad Max series clearly not coincidental.” Scheck liked the “wildly staged vehicular chase sequences and genuinely witty deadpan dialogue.” Visit this Facebook event page for more info about the screening.
Wyrmwood, directed by Kiah Roache-Turner, with Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey
92 min., In English
Thursday, June 18, 2015, 9 p.m., Cinema Excentris, 3536 St-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2V1