{Movie Review} ‘The Wrath’ Is A Fun Throwback If You Don’t Take It Too Seriously

New Shudder Exclusive The Wrath, out today, is a fun callback to early days of horror.  Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.  It’s like Ju-On and Diabolique had a three-way with Netflix’s  Wu Assassins.  There are not any martial arts scenes, but the melodramatic line delivery and hyper-fastidious attention to shot detail are reminiscent of that fluffy bit of entertaining trash.  There are twists and turns that you see coming from a mile away, but like a begrudging hug from your Mom, you don’t actually mind. 
It’s an old story done well that builds tension with a good sound design and unusual camera angles.  Slow sweeping shots that linger on the subjects almost lovingly are mixed with nausea inducing spin sequences that show off the architecture.  Some of those shots are more successful than others and some feel derivative of every ghost story you have ever seen.  It comes together oddly enough into a finished product that occasionally scares while making you laugh.  If director Yoo Young-Seon was going for winking horror he succeeded ten fold.   It’s as if the entire cast and crew and the viewer are in on the same joke.  Effective jump scares reminded me of those Youtube videos of pretty little girls dancing to sad music when out of nowhere a ghost appears.  They are weird and eerie and you are almost mad when you jump, but jump you do anyway.
For those not familiar with this classic story it is the tale of a scorned and tortured lover.  She is not a virgin but nonetheless wronged and seriously pissed(for good reason).  She has cursed a royal family’s male children after the patriarch killed her.  A young and newly pregnant wife has some connection with the aforementioned ghost I think…  She’s scarred but the story of how or why that happened is simply dropped from the plot almost as quickly as it is presented.  There is an evil step mother and scheming step sisters to go along with a domineering and unstable male head of household.  It’s all very sudsy and frivolous between bouts of sneering smiles, chicken eating, and stereotypical haunting.    All of it set in an isolated and startling beautiful Korean compound.  A standard ghost story after the Kaidan lore the Cheonyeo Gwisin or Virgin Ghost being the most common features prominently. If that sounds absurd, don’t be fooled.  It is all part of the charm that is The Wrath.
The themes of societal oppression, greed, fear of power loss, and vulnerable women are used heavily.  No matter how much times change, some things never seem to, and powerful men with secrets who abuse others seem to reoccur throughout time.  An indulgent remake of Woman’s Wail from 1986 it feels like it could have been from an even earlier era.  Period pieces are difficult in horror, but Asian period pieces are particularly hard.  For Western audiences the beauty and “otherness” of the architecture takes over the fear aspect. The setting is beyond gorgeous and the costuming stunning. The Wrath leans hard into its dated themes and design and as a result finds itself in a comfortable place that fits like a warm blanket.
The female cast is attractive and K-Pop star Son Na-eun is ethereally stoic.  She has been panned by other reviewers for her wooden delivery, but her character is supposed to be meek and expressionless.  As such her acting is appropriate for the character.  The young exorcist played by Lee Tae-Ri looks as if he could have been dropped directly from Rivendell of Middle Earth.  He is slight but wiry and steels the show with his tough but angelic appearance.  The male and female patriarch are fittingly snide and patronizing with Seo Young-Hee a clear standout.
The first half of the film works well to drive tension and set the stage for the more gruesome second act.  The final act does not quite coalesce into a full nightmare but there are a few moments that are genuinely unnerving including a face ripping scene that is grossly spectacular.  The dream sequence reveals torture that is quietly brutal and the spirit makeup is satisfactory if not terribly creative.  As with most things in this movie the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality was used with aplumb.  The sound design is good at providing an atmosphere that is oppressive while driving the fear.  This is not a subtle movie but rather one that forecasts exactly where its going unabashedly.
All in all this is the sort of film that can be appreciated for its blunt approach.  It’s not high cinema and that’s okay.  Not everything has to be.  If you just relax into it and enjoy the ridiculousness for what it is, you will find The Wrath is mindless enjoyment.  It is out on Shudder today and for lovers of classic Asian ghost stories or Korean horror you could do much worse.