Roll up, roll up! Do you like spurting blood, dismembered hands and vomiting black goop? Are you a fan of stunning Asian architecture and historical costume? Does the chill of a B-movie jump scare fulfil you? Well then, Young-sun Yoo’s remake of the 1986 horror essential, Woman’s Wail, might be for you. Complete with tons of gore and guts, this Korean horror film balances its elaborate visuals well with its story.
The film opens over the misty mountains of 14thCentury Korea, where a young maid is led across a frozen river, unaware of the horrors she will soon bear witness to. As we arrive at a grand house, it becomes apparent that this young woman, named Ok-bun (Na-Eun Son), is to be married. She is engaged to the youngest of three sons, whose older brothers have already mysteriously met their fate on their wedding nights. Little does she know she is merely a pawn in the (step)mother’s attempt to save her son. But when something goes bump in the night and the plan fails, it is the now-pregnant widow’s fate to free the house of the spirit that haunts it.
Prominent are the themes of social status and its restrictions. The family see her as a dim maid and – more importantly – bait. But think again because Ok-bun is far more than that. With a swastika burn on her shoulder (the original Buddhist symbol of spirituality, screw the Nazis) that seems to ward off evil spirits, the grievous past misgivings of the house reveal themselves to her, and this ghost story becomes a mission of survival. Now with someone to protect, Ok-bun accepts the task to end this deathless vengeance willingly. It goes to show, never underestimate a mother’s wrath and love for her child.
14thCentury Korea offers a lot to play with visually, and The Wrath doesn’t let it go to waste. From the red, white and black ribbons hanging in mourning from the bare winter trees, to the teal and brown monk’s temple at the base of a mountain. As with much of Asian cinema, the environments and their sprawling stillness is as much a part of the atmosphere as anything else. With this patience and mood, the supernatural makes itself at home, with the spirit invading with smoke and an eerie red glow.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have any questionable technical choices. The style often flips between very slick and modern cinematography to weirdly B-movie-esque techniques, perhaps adopted from its source text. A sequence of night-vision footage, while solid in theory, brings viewers out of the moment due to its complete clash with the historical and spiritual canon up until this point. The horror itself relies too much on jump scares and gore, even after building up a perfectly tense and unnerving climate.
With a satisfying supernatural showdown bathed in red (and a somewhat cryptic resolution) The Wrath is an entertainingly chilling film that uses its ties to the traditional ghost stories of Korea to bring life back to a previously loved original. Its interest in its female heroine and politics as well as its jump scares should make it well met with any fan of horror, as well as those who prefer costume dramas.
The Wrath is out on September 5th
by Daisy Leigh-Phippard
Daisy is studying film production at Arts University Bournemouth with the hope of becoming a director and screenwriter. A lover of independent and foreign film with female perspectives, her favourites include Pan’s Labyrinth, The Handmaiden, and Frida. Follow her on Twitter, Letterboxd and Instagram.