Freud defines the uncanny as something that should have been kept concealed but is later discovered when a certain trigger brings back repressed childhood conflicts or fears. The uncanny refers to something recognizable, what is familiar to us. Freud uses the two German terms heimlich and unheimlich to differentiate that which is familiar or comfortable and that which is unfamiliar or repressed. As seen in The Wailing, a daughter, who is undoubtedly recognizable to her parents, falls into the uncanny category because she is familiar (heimlich). When she morphs into something strange and horrifying, she becomes unfamiliar (unheimlich)
The Wailing by Na Hong-jin
The film begins with police officer, Jeon Jong-goo, getting a phone call alerting him of a murder in his village. The family was stabbed to death by a man with boils over his skin in a trance. Several other killings occur, situationally the same and rumors begin to surface that a strange Japanese man who has just arrived in town is responsible for the deaths. He lives deep in the mountains, eats raw deer carcasses, rapes women and curses people. The officer and his partner break into the Japanese man's house and find photographs of the victims, shamanic items, and personal items belonging to the villagers. One of the items is the police officer's daughter's (Hyo-jin) shoe. Symptoms begin to appear in Hyo-jin shortly after. She was once a sweet child but now screams and curses at her family and acts erratically. Doctors have no answers so her grandmother enlists the service of a shaman. The shaman assures the family that he will take care of the situation and rid the village of the ghost that's tormenting them. Another spirit is present in the village in the form of a young woman. This spirit tells the officer that she knows the Japanese man is a ghost that possesses people in the town and drives them to commit murders. The officer and his comrades search for the Japanese man and chase him until his presumed death. Later, the officer visits his daughter in the hospital and she appears to have been cured. The shaman contacts the officer telling him the young woman spirit is the actual evil in the village, not the Japanese man, and he put a hex on the wrong ghost. The officer becomes confused and doesn't know who to trust when the young woman's spirit is telling him she's trying to save his daughter but simultaneously the shaman is telling him the young woman's spirit is actually evil. Ultimately, the officer doesn't listen to the spirit of the young woman and his daughter slaughters his wife and mother.
The Uncanny In The Wailing
Creepy little girls have long been prominent in the horror film genre. Movies like The Ring, The Grudge, The Exorcist, Interview with a Vampire, Let the Right One, and The Shining are a few that present an adolescent girl as the anchor character. But why are young girls a source for the uncanny? Little girls are generally not threatening.
When a little girl becomes that which is unfamiliar to us, blurred lines of reality ensue. We begin to feel as though things are not right and we are left unsettled. As the little girl begins to exhibit something horrifying we enter the realm of the uncanny and we begin to question our response to the situation. Just like the police officer as he struggles to make a decision.
Once Hyo-jin shows signs of possession, the daughter the parents thought they knew now becomes something unfamiliar and frightening.
Freud asserts that uncanny fiction requires a fusion of objective and subjective narrative styles. The Wailing begins with a realistic story about a murder, familiar to most, which is unexpectedly plagued by supernatural and unexplainable events.