"The Wailing" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" are this week's selections.
Join me in raising a glass to Quibi, the bite-sized video service that everyone in the world knew would fail except the leadership at Quibi. From launch to shut down in six months — that's truly remarkable.
Although it's funny to see this idea blow up so robustly in the faces of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, it sucks for those lower on the ladder. They worked hard to produce shows they knew no one would watch, and now they're out of their jobs. I'm sure there was good stuff on the service! But I was never, ever going to watch it.
In better news, after last week's minor respite, our selections for this week get back to the Cringe Blog themes you know and love/hate.
"The Wailing" (2016)
Prime Video, rated R, 156 minutes
There's a new rule that I want to implement, and the rule is that every movie must contain dueling religious rituals set to increasingly loud and frenetic music.
"The Wailing" taught me this. "The Wailing" also taught me — reminded me, to be more accurate — that South Korea makes better horror films than anyone else. Those filmmakers understand the importance of feeling, of atmosphere, is much greater than that of jump scares.
Here we have Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-won), a detective who is not quite bumbling but certainly not elite at his job. He messes up sometimes, which isn't normally a huge deal in his small village; nothing much happens there. Until stuff starts happening there. Brutal killings, a string of them, each by a different person. The perpetrators are connected by the brutal rash they share, pus prominently presented. This rash/curse remains, draining them of their mental capacities, until they eventually die.
Signs begin to point to a secretive Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) as the one putting a curse on these people. Some even refer to him as a ghost, even though he's visibly flesh and blood. There are stories of him eating the raw meet of a deer carcass on all fours deep in the woods, his eyes glowing red. When Jong-Goo has a dream that matches these stories, it's enough to spring him into action. He and his partner (Son Kang-gook) pay him a visit.
What they find chills them, but it's not enough to make an arrest. And things go from bad to worse when Jong-Goo returns home to find his adolescent daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) starting to develop the murderous rash.
"The Wailing" is frightening in all the right ways. Director Na Hong-jin keeps the film's mysteries locked away for much of the run time, keeping the audience guessing as to what's actually happening. The surface level story is dark, and the implied story might be even darker once you connect a few dots and think about how these people are getting sick. But the film won't do that for you; "The Wailing" is a complex story, and if you want to solve it all, you might have to watch it twice (at least). It touches on a lot of things, chief among them what it means to believe in something. Is sight and touch enough? Or can our eyes and hands be deceived? How do we ever know who to trust?
It also tries to be a lot of horror genres at once. There are scenes that pay homage to possession films, zombie films, cult films and serial killer films. Somehow, it all works, maybe because the whole narrative is fractured from the start. If a film is consistently messy, it is really messy at all? Or is that part of the appeal?
Complexity aside, the film does come to a conclusive ending, and it's a knockout. Not one that will make sleeping easy, mind you. I don't want any complaints if this keeps you up at night. But it's a great one nonetheless, paving a future for certain characters without needing a sequel to see their stories through. You already know what lies in wait for them, for better or worse.
And again, before I move on: I really must insist that all movies feature dueling rituals. I cannot stress enough how compelling that scene is. Watch it and thank me later.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)
Google Play, rated R, 121 minutes
Ryan, why are you putting a straight-up action movie in Cringe Blog? Haven't you strayed from the theme enough this year? I mean, last week's installment had two movies that barely qualified under any metric. Where's "The Haunting of Bly Manor?" Where's "Rebecca?" Where's the HORROR?!?
Good questions, Ryan. First of all, shut up. Second of all, my blog, my rules. Third of all, one of those might be coming next week. Fourth of all, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is the ultimate Halloween movie. Or it should be, anyway. Really, we should be talking about the miracle that is this movie every day for the rest of time. But let's focus on the Halloween of it all for now. Is it set in the fall? Tough to tell when it's set in the apocalyptic Australian outback. A strike against it? Perhaps, but listen to my other points first:
- Put all of the characters in this movie, large and small roles alike, into a hat. Pick one. Boom, that's your Halloween costume. A great choice. You seriously cannot go wrong. Look at this guy. Look at this person. LOOK AT THE DOOF WARRIOR. There has never been a cooler minor character in any movie than the Doof Warrior, the leader of the War Boys' traveling battle band who signals his army's arrival by absolutely shredding on an electric guitar (that shoots flames) while strapped to bungee cords on a big-ass truck.
- Furiosa (Charlize Theron). That's it, that's the bullet point.
- The opening scene, where Max (Tom Hardy) tries to escape from the War Boys while being haunted by visions of his past failures, is incredibly scary, even more so because director George Miller, an actual insane person, made the decision to speed up the footage to the point where the human eye can just barely comprehend what it is seeing. The result is an almost 3D-like effect, or like you're at a haunted house with never-ending strobe lights. The first time I watched it, I wondered if my brain was breaking. Now I think it's brilliant. There are other frightening things in this movie, such as the quick shot of the crow fishers in the swamp, but nothing beats the opening scene.
- For someone who doesn't get that much to do, Immortan Joe is an all-time great villain, mostly because his name is Immortan Joe and he looks like this. (Costumes!) Miller makes him terrifying through other people's reactions to him as much as his own actions. When he runs, he looks like an adult version of a "Power Rangers" villain and it rules.
- It is genuinely incredible to me that no died while making this movie. The entire movie, more or less, is a massive car chase involving fire and big rigs and off-road cars and leaping motorcycles and many, many pole stunts. Tom Hardy spends 45 or so minutes literally strapped to the front of a car going 140 mph like the figurehead on the bow of a ship. If you have a half hour, I highly recommend this behind-the-scenes look at the film and how it pulled off a lot of these stunts. It's worth it to hear how genuine the terror in Hardy's voice is when talking about it all.
- At one point, a character says "Witness me, bloodbag," a seemingly incoherent trio of words to anyone who has not watched the film, but in actuality a powerful and emotional trio of words. That's what good movies do: create a world from scratch, teach you it's rules and culture and then make you care about those things.
- A dude gets his face ripped off, which is pretty sick.
- "Fury Road" manages to simultaneously be a "women get revenge on their abusers and take control of their lives" movie and be a "dudes rock" movie, which is an unheard of feat. It should have won Best Picture for that alone. (Thanks, "Spotlight," a movie only journalists remember exists now.)
I feel like I have made my case for "Fury Road," the best action movie of at least the past 20 years if not longer. If, however, you still have some complaints, please feel free to email them to [email protected].