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Connoisseurs of cinematic horror know South Korea produces some of the scariest stuff around. The most recent example of this is "The Wailing," a frightening tale of a cop who literally goes to the devil.

In a small Korean village, a string of bizarre and horrific murders has the local police baffled. They think the murders might be explained by a recent epidemic of mushrooms turning people into psychopaths. There's also a theory that a recent newcomer to the village, a Japanese man (Kunimura Jun), may be the cause.

Jong-Gu (Kwak Do-wan) isn't sure what to think. As he guards one of the crime scenes, he has a strange encounter with a young woman (Chun Woo-hee) who claims to have witnessed the crimes — but she disappears as mysteriously as she arrived.

When Jong-Gu's daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), seems possessed by the same malevolent spirit that has afflicted others in the village, the policeman grows desperate. First he threatens the Japanese stranger — and then he employs a shaman, Il-gwang (Hwang Jung-min), to perform an exorcism.

Yes, director-writer Na Jong-jin evokes "The Exorcist" in his dark tale, but there also are dashes of "Seven" and a few other classic ghost stories. More important, Na draws upon a vast reservoir of Korean folktales while also tapping into universal fears of the devil, madness and the prospect of harm befalling our children.

He and his crew — particularly cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo ("Snowpiercer") and production designer Lee Hwo-kyung — also create a compelling and foreboding atmosphere that finds scares in the most everyday of places and scenarios.

Na takes his sweet time, more than 2 ½ hours, to build to his shattering climax — and yet not a minute of it feels wasted or superfluous. By the end of "The Wailing," the audience knows it has been taken on a dark and twisted ride.

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'The Wailing'

A policeman goes to extremes to save his daughter from evil in this bloody good Korean horror thriller.

Where • Tower Theatre.

When • Opens Friday, July 15.

Rating • Not rated, but probably R for violence, gore, strong language and some sexuality.

Running time • 156 minutes; in Korean and Japanese, with subtitles.