Double Feature: Modus and The Wailing

Fenster writes:

It’s double feature time again.

Some double features here are naturals: two films written by Hanif Kureishi separated by decades that reveal how authorial obsessions change as the author ages. Others are linked by chance: I happened to pick up Cool Hand Luke and The Paperboy at the library on the same visit and found that they had a lot in common. With yet others the kinship is not so apparent but it is in there. I didn’t expect the low budget horror comedy Escape from Tomorrow would share elements with a late Rohmer film but you can find them if you squint hard enough.

Today’s double feature pairs Modus, a Nordic Noir mini-series from Sweden with The Wailing, a mixed genre comedy-horror-crime-supernatural Korean film.

On the surface the two have obvious things in common. In each a community is wracked by a series of seemingly inexplicable murders, and the arc of the narrative not only involves finding the perpetrator in classic police procedural style but coming to grips with what the deaths may signify culturally.

Modus is burdened somewhat by the increasingly chiched form of Nordic Noir. The dark originality of The Killing and The Bridge and have given way to more formulaic exercises.

I think this is due to a number of factors. Genres naturally deplete over time. There’s also the baleful influence of international success. Brits in particular have gone gaga over the genre, with the result that odd hybrids like Fortitude appear, a little Scandinavian, a little British, even a little American. Netflix takes notice. Series increasingly take on predictable Law and Order elements. Indeed, while the first season of Modus, reviewed here, was produced back in 2015 the show’s second season gets pretty American, and features a hunt for a missing American president played by Kim Catrall.

But Nordic Noir does not require the corrupting influence of international renown to result in genre stress. There’s also the problem of making sure a genre that can get pretty dark about human nature observes all of the strict PC protocols that Scandinavia is justly known for.

To take just the most obvious example: Scandinavian cultures seem unable to deal with Muslim migration openly. In crime films like In the Order of Disappearance and the Easy Money series the problem of tough migrants and naive natives is tackled, but the bad guys tend to be Eastern European. Muslims seldom make it to the TV screen in Noir mini-series except (as in Modus) as good guy policemen, sometimes going as far (as in the Danish series Department Q) of rendering the Muslim policemen more Danish than the Danes, a Scandinavian version of the Magical Negro sent to cure fallen whites.

Now, Muslims commit an awful lot of crime in Scandinavia in comparison with the Nordic population. Somehow Nordic Noirs miss that. As with Law and Order Tom Wolfe’s Great White Defendant is somehow a lot easier to find on TV than in real life, and minority defendants are hard to come by.

Modus, like many Noirs, avoid the Muslim subject. But there is a lot more to PC doctrine than concern over Muslims. There’s gender and sexual preference in there. Religion, too. Modus does not skimp on those.

In Modus as the pieces come together the police come to realize that they are dealing with a killer or killers who are out to kill homosexuals. Prominent gays, too. Indeed the gays who are killed or who are under threat include the CEO of a major corporation, a well-known TV chef, a famous actress, a trendy artist and a bishop in the Church of Sweden. It is clear that the series acknowledges gays do not live lives of fear. This is Sweden! So we have a bit of a problem with a plot driver. Who would commit such fiendish acts in such a nice and progressive culture?

Americans, that’s who! And not just any Americans. Deplorable Americans.

It turns out that the conflicted guy doing the actual killing is an agent of a larger plot, one that is run out of a low rent Bible Belt church somewhere deep in Dixie, where the preacher man get into a lather speaking in deep Southern accents about Jee-zus and homo-sexiuals. It’s amazing what an internet connection and a couple of bucks in church donations can do. Every impoverished roadside church in the Deep South the potential locus of international intrigue and murder.

Obviously American evangelicals can be dangerous, especially when they stare into space like zombies and dress like Nazis who buy their clothes at Goodwill. But can you say the show is against religion?

No, not exactly. Heck, one of the victims, a lesbian, is a bishop.

But not so fast. The bishop has had to hide her sexual preference for the decades she has been married to a man, a highly conflicted guy who is himself a closeted gay. Thus while the Church of Sweden is way superior to its crazed, lowbrow American evangelical sibling its cultural fastidiousness has an oppressive aspect nonetheless. The Church is on the right side but hardly “with it.”

Yet for a show that intends to celebrate Sweden’s liberated ways one can discern a very strict and hierarchical set of values at work. In short, the show is an intersectional dream. Gay relationships are shown as universally healthy and loving. By comparison the two main characters, a male detective and a female psychologist working on the case, struggle and fail to develop a normal loving relationship. It’s just so hard between people so poorly matched for one another.

Then there’s the intersectional overlap between men and women. Intersectionality dictates that as gay trumps straight women trump men. Sure enough, while the gay males are portrayed sympathetically but as having some serious problems the gay women are unblemished. The gay male artist who is murdered is, like all men, a little too promiscuous for his own good. The gay husband of the lesbian bishop lets his denial get in the way of solving the case.

The lesbians–paragons of virtue– have no such hang-ups. They are portrayed as being on top of male homosexuals (if I may use that phase in this context), at least as far as the intersectionality totem pole is concerned (if I may use that metaphor at all).

Straight men are doubly cursed by both gender and preference and are of course pretty far down the slippery . . . pole. The straight police detective has problems with women, and is a little too conventionally male to allow for a decent relationship. And of course the male evangelicals are beneath contempt, whether motivated by true anti-gay religious zeal or by their own conflicted sexuality.

So by contrast let’s now consider The Wailing. Intersectional concerns appear largely absent in the film. It is not so much that it is anti-PC. It just doesn’t force intersectionality concerns into the plot.

But there is the question of religion, and how The Wailing deals with it presents a nice contrast with Modus.

This Korean film was a big hit with the public and critics in its home country. It aims high–at over two and a half-hours it is filled with plot twists, ideas and ambitions.

A small rural village in Korea seems to be spinning out of control. People are being murdered in gruesome fashion, seemingly by family members who have run amok. Suspicion alights on the foreigner–the eccentric Japanese guy who has settled deep in the forest and keeps to himself. As the murders continue the main character, a bumbling policemen, has to struggle with his daughter’s apparent takeover by a demon, whom he assumes must be animated by the “Jap” in the hills.

If you have been weaned on media in the West in the last several decades you think you know how this will end. The despised “Jap” will be shown to be misunderstood and the villagers after him with pitchforks will be revealed as racist yahoos. Indeed, the film pulls you in this direction for the most part, leaving the question of the evil Japanese demon up in the air but hinting here and there that the villagers have it all wrong.

Through all of these we occasionally come across a young woman who crosses paths with the Japanese fellow and the policeman. But it is not clear who she is and what part she plays. By the climax the viewer is left hanging. Is the Japanese guy really the devil, as she says, or is she the bad actor?

In the final reel, just as it seems as though the Japanese guy will reveal himself as an unfairly maligned innocent he comes clean. He is a demon. And not just any demon. Despite the animistic emphasis placed on the demon by the villagers the demon reveals himself to be the Devil himself. Old Beelzebub. Christianity has made some side appearances in the film but by the end but you’d be forgiven, if you will, for not having noticed that the film is in the end a traditional Christian one, with a real God and a real Devil. When was the last time you saw that in a Swedish min-series?

In fact by the end we are led to believe that the mystery woman was a religious emissary of some sort, probably an angel sent to help the policeman. She urges him at the end to believe in what she tells him he must do — ah, but she only has a call to faith to persuade him. Either he trusts her on faith or he does not. What does he do?

I spoiled some of the wrap-up but it is a long movie and I will leave out the very ending,

Suffice it to say here that we are not in Uppsala any more Toto. The local yahoos said the Jap was the bad guy and guess what? He was. That is taboo-shattering right there.

And then there is the question of religion. The Swedes might find a watered-down version of Christianity tolerable as it is for the most party consistent with the real religion of Intersectionality. But there is no sympathy in Modus for a real God and a real Devil. You have to go to Korea for that.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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3 Responses to Double Feature: Modus and The Wailing

  1. Brian Gardam says:

    I read the trilogy « Easy Money » by Jens Lapidus. It’s quite a tour of the Swedish underworld, or Lapidus’s impression of it. He does include a number of Islamic thugs. However, the nastiest of the immigrant criminals are the Russians, a truly deplorable sociopathic lot. The Swedish bad guys are
    the money men, who seldom get their fingers dirty. I look forward to using it as a Sociology text the next Time i get a chance to talk with Claire’s Swedish cousins. I’m amused by your observation that the only acceptable foreign evil-doers are Americans.

    Twisted religio-sexual guilt does seem to be the motive in many Scandinavian films and TV shows. It has become the theme in American-produced shows. The virtuous gay has become perfectly predictable as well. PC does present challenges for mystery writers. We were watching “I’m Not Okay With This”, and Claire and I had the same sense that writers are getting lazy in making every struggling female character turn out to be lesbian.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fenster says:

    I have seen two of the three Easy Money films. Interesting that the books feature Islamic bad guys,. I don’t remember that in the movies, but my memory is not always reliable.

    When you watch a foreign film from a foreign culture you have to work to interpret meanings. The Korean film was blase about the Japanese guy being the devil. Is the filmmaker aware of the trope, and how unusual it is to have the racist national stereotype actual come true? Of do Koreans just really dislike Japanese and it is just casual stereotyping?


  3. Steve S. says:

    Your take on Modus was dead on. I watched the whole series just out of curiosity. I found it disappointing in its ludicrous wokeness and otherwise forgettable – also quite inferior to the British Wallander TV series with Kenneth Branaugh, which I would recommend in this genre. (I have not seen the original Swedish Wallander TV series.)

    Liked by 1 person

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