For years, I had heard about how great The Wailing was. I knew it was a horror film from South Korea that had a bit of a cult following…but that was about it. And I would often wonder: “Could it really be that great?” But once you actually watch it, you instantly understand that the film is a unique experience.
Such a unique experience that one wonders: what other movies are actually like The Wailing?
The evolving mystery, the philosophical musings, the religious commentary—yeah, this beloved supernatural thriller covers quite a bit of ground. Which makes it difficult to make comparisons to other movies. But after a lot of thought, I’ve put together a list that draws from different regions, decades, and genres of film.
Here are some movies that fans of The Wailing should check out.
P.S. Dive even deeper into the movie with our Definitive Explanation of The Wailing.
As much as The Wailing is a supernatural horror film, it’s got plenty of philosophical musings as well. The central mystery that involves one of Jong-goo’s very own daughter forces him into an internal crisis that sends him down an existential rabbit hole.
This angle instantly makes me think of the South Korean film Forgotten. This psychological thriller from director Jang Hang-jun follows a young man named Jin-seok who feels uneasy about his family’s new home—and begins to wonder if everything around him is a lie. Before long, Jin-seok starts to question not only his family, but his very identity and existence as well.
First Reformed (2017)
As you watch The Wailing, it quickly becomes clear that the director, Na Hong-jin, is working through some religious quandaries. The film opens with a quote from the Bible, and before long The Wailing is filled with priests and demons and spiritual predicaments—all of which is falling on the shoulders of our main character, Jong-goo.
If you’re looking for a film that deals with some similar religious tension, then I would suggest the film First Reformed. This Paul Schrader movie follows a pastor of a small church named Ernst Toller who is struggling with a crisis of faith. As attendance at his church dwindles and people around him continue to struggle, he begins to question God’s intentions.
After you’ve watched First Reformed, be sure to read our article explaining the end of the film.
Dead Friend (2004)
One of the best parts of The Wailing is its slowly unraveling mystery. At no point are you a step ahead of the film’s narrative, as it constantly unleashes twists and turns that send the story in new and exciting (and unpredictable) directions.
If you like this aspect of The Wailing, then check out Dead Friend. This South Korean horror film centers on a high school student named Min Ji-won, who suffers from a case of amnesia. As she slowly recovers from her condition, she begins to realize that all of her friends have drowned in freak accidents. Before long, she pieces together her dark past and what has caused all of this trouble.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The “exorcism film” is a unique genre. On the surface, all of the movies that fit into this category seem pretty similar. But as we saw from The Wailing, the story, the characters, and the social commentary that surround an exorcism completely changes the experience.
If you’re looking for a great modern exorcism film, then try The Exorcism of Emily Rose. This horror film centers on a reverend who is being prosecuted after he performs an exorcism that kills a young girl. The movie details both the exorcism that was performed and the legal trial that will decide the reverend’s fate.
It’s easy to lump The Wailing into the “supernatural horror” category and be done with it. But Na Hong-jin’s film also depicts the very experience of living in South Korea. And the way the director depicts the Korean countryside and comments on existential questions faced by people who live there makes me think of one movie in particular.
That movie? Burning. From heralded director Lee Chang-dong comes a psychological flick that’s part suspenseful thriller, part meditative drama. This mix between these two energies produces a movie that feels like a low-key version of The Wailing. Burning tells the tale of a young man who falls for a woman. But after she disappears, he goes on a wild and mentally debilitating hunt to find her.
Let the Right One In (2008)
The Wailing is a movie that can fool you. At times, it appears to be a cut-and-dry mystery film set in reality, free of supernatural elements and painfully familiar. But once the film settles into its central fantasy, all bets are off. Before long, people who live ordinary lives are suddenly experiencing the extraordinary.
For that reason, I think Let the Right One In is a perfect companion. While The Wailing is a much more chaotic film, this Swedish horror-drama from 2008 is quietly intense in many similar ways. Let the Right One In follows a young, bullied boy named Oskar who makes friends with his mysterious neighbor, Eli. Soon, however, Oskar discovers that Eli is hiding some deep, dark secrets that are linked to a string of bloody murders.
If you’d rather watch the American version of this film, it’s called Let Me In. That movie was released in 2010.
Jong-goo is the main character of The Wailing. But in many ways, the story is just as much about his daughter, Hyo-jin, who is possessed by the demon that haunts their town. Every decision made by people investigating the film’s supernatural mystery has a direct consequence on Hyo-jin’s well-being.
Thus, I think it’s appropriate to include Possessed on this list. After all, this South Korean horror film centers on a young girl, So-jin, who disappears after being possessed by a spirit. The film follows So-jin’s sister, Hee-jin, who investigates this mystery—all while her neighbors are inexplicably dying one by one.
One of the most intriguing elements of The Wailing is that you never know who to trust. Is the shaman helping Jong-goo’s daughter? Is Moo-myung a helpful or a mischievous spirit? Is the Japanese stranger the one causing the problems…or is he secretly trying to help?
You see all of these questions wearing on Jong-goo as the movie carries on—which makes me think of the giallo classic Suspiria. The movie, directed by Dario Argento, follows a young woman named Suzy who attends a ballet school. But before long, she begins to question her teachers and wonders if there are some satanic secrets they’re hiding from the students.
If you’d like to watch a modernized version of Suspiria, then be sure to check out the 2018 release of this film.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
The Wailing is a great example of how a supernatural premise can unleash the worst aspects of good people. In Na Hong-jin’s film, we witness Jong-goo lose his cool on several occasions as he tries to make sense of all the crazy stuff happening around him as he tries to save his daughter. The events of the film cause him to become uncharacteristically senseless and violent in ways that scare those around him.
All of those factors combined remind me of the 2010 South Korean thriller I Saw the Devil. The movie focuses on a trained secret agent named Kim Soo-hyeon, who is devastated by the murder of his wife. Obsessed with finding the killer, Kim Soo-hyeon is able to hunt down the culprit—triggering a game of cat-and-mouse that he did not expect.
Even once you’re done watching The Wailing, you’re left wondering: was the Japanese stranger the one who was terrorizing the town the entire time? Or was he someone who was trying to help but was then compromised? The answers to the questions that surround the film’s “villain” are of supreme importance to Jong-goo.
For that reason, I think Onibaba is an intriguing choice for this list. This 1965 horror film from the great Kaneto Shindo follows two women who fight to survive by killing samurai and then selling their valuables. After they learn that Kichi (the son of one woman, and the husband of the other) died in the war, they are thrust into a complicated web of morality and spiritual duress that involves a mysterious mask from a dead samurai.