My recent excursion into the entire Ju-On/The Grudge series had me itching for some new Asian horror, so I went on a little binge with these three flicks. My conclusion is that they just don’t make Asian horror like they used to…even when the guy who brought us Ju-On is the one making it.
HOWLING VILLAGE (2019)
Coming from director Tikashi Shimizu, creator of the Ju-On/The Grudge series, Howling Village is way out there compared to the straightforward revenge ghost curse plot of his famous franchise.
The opening scene totally reminded me of the dread of playing a Fatal Frame video game as a guy and his girlfriend sneak through a tunnel that leads to a cursed, abandoned “Howling Village”. After being chased back through the tunnel by creepy ghost zombie entities, the pair is not the same.
This is where things become confusing, with an excessive number of characters getting involved in the proceedings. The main focus is on a psychic psychologist who not only tries to help the couple that visited Howling Village, but also unearths the truth about her own family’s connections to the village and a curse.
There are a few eerie scenes, and the idea that the tunnel to this known cursed town is only partially blocked off is hella creepy, but this simply has none of the punch of Ju-On.
If it had kept us in the village more, the sense of dread would have been through the roof, but much of the action here takes place in a hospital and near the safe side of the tunnel.
Most complicated is the messed up story of why the village was abandoned and what the women of the village and dogs have to do with it. Quite honestly, I couldn’t follow the plot entirely. It almost seemed like a false accusation about bestiality led females to actually turn into weredogs and/or breed weredogs. Ick.
However that would explain the name of the village—and it would be a hell of a good backstory as to how the community came to be in the original The Howling, despite there obviously being no connection between the films.
THE WAILING (2016)
The Wailing is a complex combination of various subgenres. It starts sort of slapstick thanks to the lead character’s bumbling behaviors before becoming a strictly serious movie, and also suffers from an extremely long 2-1/2 runtime with scenes that unnecessarily go on forever (get ready to sit through a ritualistic dance for like ten minutes).
The plot involves a small town suffering from a rash of mass-murders that seem to be spreading like an infection. Individuals are killing all their family members after behaving like they’re totally possessed.
Eventually, the curse hits home for a scatterbrained cop on the case. His daughter begins acting possessed, and he discovers that she’s been in contact with a strange man who has recently come to town. The cop believes the stranger is responsible for all the chaos, lashes out at him, and soon after finds himself in a sort of Drag Me To Hell situation in which he is terrorized by supernatural forces and zombie-like infected people.
But everything is not as it seems—on account of the film trying really hard to throw you off with multiple twists that start canceling each other out.
Blending aspects of classic Asian curse horror films, infected films, possession/exorcism films, and zombie films, The Wailing is intriguing enough if you can hang on through numerous drawn out scenes, but overall, I didn’t find it particularly suspenseful or frightening.
THE WHOLE TRUTH (2021)
Another unnecessarily long film, this one runs two hours and five minutes long. It’s also a take on creepy grandparent movies like The Visit and Grandmother’s House.
A single mom ends up in a coma after a car accident. Her parents show up and tell their teen grandchildren (who never knew them) to come stay at their house. Eek!
The boy and girl almost immediately become drawn to a hole in the wall that the grandparents can’t see. Would you believe there’s a crawling ghost girl in the room on the other side every time they peer through it?
There are a bunch of side stories. The grandfather is determined to get revenge on the guy that was driving the car that hit the mother. The daughter is competing to be captain of the cheerleader team at school. The son, who wears a leg brace, is being blackmailed by a douche from school.
The grandparents are definitely weird, but the little ghost girl in the hole, who pukes blood a lot, isn’t scary at all once you realize she’s never going to crawl through the hole!
I liked the concept, but the final act is a bit too melodramatic and heavy on the twists in an effort to surprise us when the basic premise is good enough to carry its own intrigue.