Why the horror of ‘The Wailing’ depends on ambiguity

Time to dig into the bones of a movie that truly lives up to its name.

Why the horror of ‘The Wailing’ depends on ambiguity

Now, go to the United States

By Meg Shields ยท Published April 29, 2022

Welcome to The Queue – your daily distraction from curated video content downloaded from across the web. Today we watch a video essay that takes a look at how the South Korean horror film from 2016 The Wailing uses ambiguity to scare us.


Despite being one of the greatest horror films of the 21st century to date, The cryer has a few barriers to entry. The first and most obvious is that its driving time is almost three hours long. The second, related, storm is that the film manages to maintain and build tension for every minute of its 2h 36m length.

Written and directed by Na Hong-jin, The cryer is the cinematic equivalent of being strangled during a short-haul flight. But that’s part of the appeal. A soul-crushing and stomach-crushing nightmare, The cryer tells of a mysterious disease that has struck a small, rural village in the mountainous forests of South Korea. The disease is sudden, rabies-like and 100% fatal. Assigned to the case is Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won), a clammy family man who gets personally invested when his daughter becomes ill. Soon, Jong-goo finds himself wrapped up in a far more sinister conspiracy; a waking nightmare of shamanistic rituals, ghostly visits and suspicious outsiders.

As the video essay below argues, quite convincingly, the key to what does The cryer so damn scary is its use of ambiguity. It is not the case that monsters or events are unreadable or confusing. Instead, the film uses purposeful cinematic storytelling to manipulate the audience’s sense of reality itself. From its innovative rollout of over-consumption of horror tropes to editing that deliberately hides clues in common sight, The cryer is a scary but thoroughly rewarding watch that lives up to its name.

The video below contains spoilers for The cryer.

See “Ambiguous Horror of The Wailing”:


Who made this?

This video essay on how ambiguity is central to the horror of The cryer is made of Spikima film, a Korean-Canadian who has been throwing the 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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Related topics: Horror, South Korea, The Queue

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

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