The rural village of Goksung, South Korea, is experiencing an epidemic of savage murders committed by people who seem to have contracted a mysterious disease. While the local police claims toxic mushrooms are the cause, rumors start accusing an old Japanese hermit (Jun Kunimura) of being the one responsible. When officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) realizes his daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan Hee) is showing the same symptoms as the other perpetrators, he teams up with shaman Il-gwang (Hwang Jung Min) to protect his family, all the while a mysterious woman (Chun Woo Hee) gives him cryptic clues about the true nature of the danger...
The movie is also known as The Strangers in some markets, not to be confused with the 2008 home invasion movie of the same name.
This film contains examples of:
- As the Good Book Says...: The movie's opening cards display the Biblical quote at the top of this page. The Japanese man recites the same verses in his final scenes as he reveals his true form.
- Bald of Evil: The Japanese man is bald, and even if he isn't the one behind the curse, is still a cruel, demonic being.
- Big Bad: Il-gwang is the true master of the dark force tormenting the town.
- Classical Antihero: Officer Jong-goo is a fat, bumbling officer who can't get anything right, completely panics when he has to restrain a lone frail woman, gets no respect from his family or superiors, and according to one comment from his wife isn't exactly spectacular in bed either. It's only when his daughter falls victim to a curse that he has to Take a Level in Badass to try and save her.
- Clueless Deputy: Officer Jong-goo starts the movie as a fat, bumbling idiot who constantly shows up late at crime scenes, forgets to take his rain coat when it's clearly pouring outside, can't take any initiative on his own and needs to be told everything, and is so terrified by a lone, frail (though very Ax-Crazy) woman that he's completely unable to do anything to defend himself, let alone to restrain her and ends up lying on the ground, embarrassing himself and all the police force at once. One of the point of the movie is to show how far he's willing to change when his family is in danger. He is still better than his own deputy, who is about as cowardly and needs to be told not to manhandle a murder weapon.
- Creepy Child: Hyo-jin, after being possessed.
- Demonic Possession: There are rumors that a demon is attacking their village, despite the police department's conclusion that the violence is caused by hallucinogenic mushrooms. Later, the demon possesses Hyo-Jin and makes her kill her family.
- Downer Ending: Jong-Goo is manipulated by Ill-Gwang to not listen to Moo-Myeong, who was the Big Good all along. The result leads to Hyo-jin murdering her mother and grandmother and then Jong-Goo. It's also implied from the last victim she'll die along with them too, all while Ill-Gwang and the Japanese hermit getting away scot free.
- The Ending Changes Everything: At the end, Il-Gwang, the shaman who had been helping Jong-Goo, was revealed to be on the same side as the evil spirit/devil that was tormenting his daughter.
- Evil All Along: Toward the end of the movie, Il-Gwang tells Jong-Goo that he made a mistake when identifying who is behind the curse of the village. He thought it was the Japanese hermit, when it was in fact the nameless Woman in White who appeared to Jong-Goo at the start. However, the ending reveals that he was lying and 'he' was the secretly evil one.
- Evil Laugh: The Japanese man gives a truly sinister laugh to the priest as he turns into his true (?) form.
- Gainax Ending
- Ghost Story: Jong-Goo's colleague at the police station tells him a ghost story that has been circulating around the village about a strange, terrifying man in the woods who eats raw flesh.
- The Hermit: The Japanese man suspected for the deaths lives in an old decrepit house in the woods near the village of Goksong.
- The Hero Dies: Jong-Goo is stabbed to death by his possessed daughter.
- Humanoid Abomination: The Japanese man, and very likely the Woman in White.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The movie strongly hinges on the "magic" side, but it is still perfectly possible to interpret the supernatural elements of the movie as toxic mushrooms-induced hallucinations and madness.
- Mind Screw
- No Name Given: Two characters are never given real names. The Woman in White who appears to Jong-goo is only named Moo-Myeong, which means "Lady with no name" in Korean, while the hermit she accuses of being responsible for all the recent deaths in Goksung is only referred to as "the stranger" or "the Japanese man". Appropriately, both turn out to be supernatural beings. Probably.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Japanese stranger usually looks like a normal old man, but when hunting in the wild he is pictured with red eyes (and also almost completely naked).
- Religious Horror: The Wailing starts as a thriller taking place in a small Korean village, but the crimes are quickly rumored to be caused by something supernatural, and a catholic priest as well as a shaman are called to defeat the source of the evil that has cursed the town. The director studied both Christianity and Korean shamanism thoroughly to be the most accurate possible, so that when the Japanese man reveals his true nature to the priest, followers of both religions would see him as the ultimate evil.
- The "The" Title
- Took a Level in Badass: The movie follows Jong-goo as he goes from ineffectual anti-hero to someone actually capable to defend himself and his family. Some moments illustrate this change:
- At the start of the movie, a naked woman shows up at the police station in the middle of a stormy night, and Jong-goo is so terrified that he orders his deputy to look for her while he stays hidden behind his desk. At the end of the movie, he encounters the Woman of No-name, who he's been told is a powerful evil spirit responsible for all the deaths in the village, and while clearly scared he still stands his ground, look at her in the eye and demand answers from her.
- When he first goes to meet the Stranger, Jong-goo is completely powerless against the latter's guard dog and is only saved when the Stranger gets back home, at which point Jong-goo just leaves without question. The second time he goes to the Stranger's cabin, Jong-goo easily kills the dog and openly threatens to do the same to the Stranger if the latter doesn't leave at once, and later Jong-goo leads a mob of angry people to do just that.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Hyo-jin starts acting like this after being possessed, complete with a Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book.
- Woman in White: While investigating a crime scene, Officer Jong-goo meets a strange woman wearing a white robe who throws rocks at him and tell him that the strange Japanese man living alone in the woods is the culprit, before disappearing. She turns out to be some kind of local deity trying to protect the village against the stranger, who might be The Devil himself, to no avail.