Synopsis – The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story.
My Take – There is no denying of the fact that director Yeon Sang-ho‘s 2016 film Train to Busan opened the world to South Korean cinema with much deserving appreciation. However, this latest Netflix release helmed by director Cho Il-hyung is not Train to Busan. Instead it’s a much lighter film, with a completely different vibe and more dramatic take on the zombie apocalypse situation, with its primary focus being the isolation factor.
Based on the 2019 film script by Matt Naylor called Alone (whose English adaption starring Tyler Posey is slated for an October release), director Cho Il-hyung‘s film is a rather human and touching story of a modern city dweller’s survival.
Don’t get me wrong, despite being shot mostly in a single location, the film’s superior cinematography and excellent direction allows the film to manage excellent amount of thrill in the lines of films like 28 Days Later, The Girl with All the Gifts and The Crazies.
Running for just 99 minutes, the film succeeds in staying original in an unoriginal genre by being lean, mean and most importantly, emotionally resonant. Thanks to top-notch performances, genuinely gruesome special effects, and a tight script, the film manages to mostly overcome genre pitfalls and ends up delivering something really enjoyable.
The story follows Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in), a millennial gamer who wakes up to find his entire world changed. While he initially thinks he’s simply been left at home for a bit while his parents and sister went out, he soon realizes that they aren’t returning anytime soon, as the streets below his apartment start to overrun by flesh-eating zombies, created by a mysterious, fast-spreading disease.
When these zombies overrun his condominium building, Joon-woo barricades himself in the apartment, killing off the occasional zombie he encountered. But as days pass, he slowly begins to question his reality, realizing he doesn’t have nearly enough food or water to survive any longer.
Just when all hope seems to be lost, Joon-woo forms an unlikely alliance with a young woman named Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye) who lives in an apartment across the street from him. The two eventually find a way to communicate with each other, help each other continue surviving the zombie onslaught, and just wait till actual help comes along.
Here, director Cho Il-hyung takes a simple idea and just runs with it mixing zombies and claustrophobia into a film that taps into the deepest fears that people all around the world have recently experienced, an impending sense of doom and total, utter isolation. Rather than getting caught up in long-winded exposition about the origination of the virus and lots of character background, it takes us right into the action, pairing us with our protagonist from the get-go.
The film effortlessly directs the perspective of being closed in an apartment like how rain becomes a decisive event or a neighbor communicating with you from another balcony. The sense of entrapment shines through the direction and becomes a character within itself.
Rather than sticking us with a group we watch get picked off one by one, director Cho Il-hyung makes the better move, it allows us to believe that Joon-woo is a lone survivor, giving the film the opportunity to go in many directions until we finally encounter Kim Yoo-bin. And her addition is a welcome one that changes the course of the film in a way that creates more levity and higher stakes.
On the technical side, unlike similarly budgeted films, this one is genuinely terrifying, visually interesting and employs technology in a way that never feels out of place, especially the occasional drone footage. There are plenty of tried-and-true scary zombie chases, sure, but I liked how the film added a new factor into the zombie mythos, like how they can sometimes retain certain information from their past life.
Additionally, the deaths and – both zombie an otherwise – are all intriguing and each serves one of two purposes. They either showcase violence and gratuity or they have deep emotional impact on the characters watching. This is a balance that both satiates the story and the need of being creative in the zombie subgenre.
Sure, there are a few plot holes and apses in logic which will arise if you think too hard about certain inconsistencies regarding utilities like water, electricity, internet, telephone signals, or about the decisions made by the protagonists. And how it ends with many unanswered questions, but the somewhat open ending helps the viewer further understand the characters’ uncertain state of mind and their world. Despite the unanswered questions, the film manages to end on a hopeful note, as the characters continue their journey into the unknown.
Performances wise, both Yoo Ah-in and Park Shin-hye play their roles well. Ah-in, especially, plays off the role of a rather confused individual stuck in a very bad situation with flying colors, making their Camaraderie fun and heartwarming at the same time. On the whole, ‘Alive’ is a fun, engaging and often-times heartwarming horror-filled escape that manages to be more than your average zombie thriller.
Directed – Il Cho
Rated – R
Run Time – 99 minutes