With hit offerings like Train to Busan, Rampant and Kingdom in cinemas, TV and on Netflix, South Korea seems to be on a roll with entertainment that revolve around humans trapped in a zombie apocalypse. This time, Netflix is back with a new South Korean zombie horror movie #Alive which, despite its name, features many, many zombies that are decidedly not alive.
The film centres around our protagonist Joon Woo, a gamer who loves to spend his day live-streaming with his friends. Only one day though, the world as he knows it is turned on its head with the arrival of a strange virus that turns those infected into violent cannibalistic zombies. Cue the essential Korean zombie make-up and sound effects that have come to define the genre.
Not much else is known about the virus, but as the story of #Alive is told through the lens of Joon Woo, who is stuck at home for at least two-thirds of the movie, it only makes sense that he, along with viewers, only know what is transmitted on TV. Yes, the TV broadcasts that hasn’t fallen to the undead horde.
The movie wastes no time jumping straight into action as Joon Woo inadvertently lets in a neighbour who is trying to escape the growing zombie horde. Though reluctant to house the guest, Joon Woo’s kindness and naivete shine through, as he ends up allowing the man to remain in his house, despite recognising that it is safer to throw him out. Not surprisingly, the man turns out to be infected and Joon Woo survives his first close encounter with a zombie. From there all the way till the end, the movie rarely lets up its pace, and fans of zombie movies will be bound to love the many close shaves our protagonist escapes from.
As a protagonist, Joon Woo is fairly likeable and easy to relate to. Despite being a gamer, he stays away from the withdrawn and gloomy stereotype sometimes associated with characters like that. Instead, his love for gaming is shown in various other instances, such as when he has to manoeuvre a drone to try and get a sense of how bad the zombie outbreak is in his neighbourhood. He’s shown to be able to expertly control the drone, much like how one games on a console. He also frequently posts short updates on his live streaming website, encouraging others to not give up and try their best to survive.
For all his optimism, we can see that Joon Woo is genuinely suffering from being stuck at home for days on end, with a rapidly dwindling supply of food and little to no news from his family. At one part of the movie he even starts hallucinating and just when things are starting to get far too much for Joon Woo to handle, we are introduced to our deuteragonist Yoo Bin, a fellow survivor stuck in her apartment opposite Joon Woo’s. The pair soon team up to try and survive and escape from the zombie-filled hell they are living in.
One thing #Alive has is how well-paced the film’s action and narrative is, as nothing ever feels like a drag or that it is being rushed. Instead, it knows when to take its time to establish how our main characters are fairing, from Joon Woo staring desolately at his remaining packet of rations, to Yoo Bin sparingly drinking from a bottle of water with numerous markings on it to help her know how little she can drink each day, should she hope to ration her water out.
It takes its time, yes, but it never lingers any longer than necessary and we are often quickly thrust back into the next zombie-filled scene, which are oftentimes preceded by tense foreboding music, or eerie quietness that soon burst into loud zombie screeches.
Unlike the zombies in Kingdom and Train to Busan which are all super fast runners, the zombies in #Alive seem to be running at a speed that’s more akin to human speed, and as stated in the show, don’t seem to exhibit any heightened sense of smell, touch, or hearing. Instead, what’s so interesting about the zombies in #Alive is that some of them seem to be able to retain skills and characteristics they had while they were still alive. Which means that given time, one or more could remember how to open a door if it’s unlocked. Or in the case of the movie, a zombie firefighter could climb up to your apartment complex with just a rope in hand.
There is also no distinct villain for the majority of the film, with the main conflict in the film being the protagonists fighting to survive against the zombie horde outside their apartment, while also battling with what little food they have. There is no scheming minister trying to overtake a kingdom or a sly businessman determined to pit survivors against each other to survive. Instead, all you have are semi mindless zombies and surprisingly, #Alive makes it work. It is nerve wracking enough watching our protagonist trying to “farm” (his words, not ours) for more food and necessities, such that any other villain might have just been too much.
Which brings us to pretty much the only “villain” of the show, one that only appears for a grand total of 10 minutes in the whole 99-minute film. No spoilers here but this chap only appears close to the end of the film, and was not mentioned or alluded to at all prior to the appearance. Ultimately, this brief appearance feels a tad unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, except to maybe throw our protagonists into a deeper pit of despair over the futility of their efforts to try and stay alive. A better conflict, such as maybe having one of our protagonists possibly being infected, could have been thrown their way instead of this one person who somehow feels shoehorned in by the director, who felt that they needed a proper villain to round off the movie.
As mentioned, the movie is incredibly well-paced but it falters near the end, with not only the “villain” mentioned above, but its ending which felt way too abrupt. Right after Joon Woo and Yoo Bin are saved, it is mentioned that data signals are starting to return and survivors can once again use their social media to try and get themselves saved. With everything we saw our protagonists going through, this ending just felt way too convenient. It was as if the director was trying to find a happy note to end the movie on and was not sure how.
Despite its final act, #Alive does live up to its name and watching Joon Woo and Yoo Bin trying their best to survive against the odds, while battling hordes of bloodthirsty zombies is an absolute thrill to watch. If you know the feeling of being stuck at home, and not being able to go out, and are looking to your next action-packed zombie movie to watch, then #Alive should be one you definitely need to check out.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
An absolute thrill to watch for fans of the Korean zombie movie genre. Especially since most of us now know what it’s like to be stuck at home, unable to head out.
Story - 8.5/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 8.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10