Being trapped indoors doesn’t feel like such a crazy notion in Cho Il-hyung and Matt Naylor’s accidentally prescient zombie film.
“Be prepared to stay indoors an indefinite amount of time.”
I can’t exactly pinpoint the time when zombie films stopped entertaining western audiences. Certainly by the time we got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a seven-year-too-late movie based on a book that was already straining our tolerance for this sort of crap – we had all become severely exhausted of undead hordes. We’ve moved on, at least in mainstream cinema (how is The Walking Dead still on?). But, rather interestingly, the genre has seen something of a boom lately in Korea. With Train to Busan and its animated spinoff Seoul Station (as well as the upcoming sequel), period horror Rampage and comedy The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale, this particular subgenre of horror, has come back in a huge way over there. #Alive is the latest to come from Korea, and was able to secure worldwide distribution thanks to Netflix.
Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) is a videogame streamer who lives with his family and is something of a shut-in. While the rest of his household is out, he learns from the news that a disease is rapidly spreading, and those infected are compelled to find the first uninfected human and eat them, thus either killing them or transferring the virus (it’s not very clear). Joon-woo realises he can’t leave the apartment, but with an increasingly large horde threatening to bust his door down, food and water in limited supply and a distinct lack of connectivity to the outside world, life inside starts to feel just as doomed. Thankfully, salvation comes in the form of another person (Park Shin-hye), trapped in a building on the other side of the complex. With few means of communication and even fewer means of meeting up, the two look for ways to help each other out as they wait out the apocalypse.
There’s a rather big elephant in the room we’re all currently isolating with that probably needs addressing. #Alive isn’t a Covid-19 metaphor. It certainly seems like it: trapped indoors? Deadly virus which doesn’t show symptoms immediately? A rather striking summer 2020 release date? It all checks out. But the script was written last year, first as a Hollywood picture, and then adapted for Korea. Principle photography started almost a year ago. Also there’s a healthy amount of cannibalism amongst the infected which we haven’t seen yet in the real world. Still there’s no doubt that, to many people who can only see new releases on streaming sites, the story will hit a little close to home which tend to be the markings of good horror. And it’s hard to ignore when watching this.
But let’s for now, and look at #Alive for what it is. Considering the title and the heavy use of social media, I was surprised at how little a role that plays in the movie with an Instagram post Joon-woo makes popping up at the beginning and end, with little in terms of commentary. Perhaps the film was making a point about the importance of face-to-face communication, which doesn’t happen until Joon-woo and Yoo-bin finally meet, but that’s probably something of a stretch as well. #Alive is best seen a straightforward horror and in that capacity it excels. Director Cho Il-hyung never relies too heavily on a single horror gimmick meaning you never know if you’ll get faked out by a jump-scare or caught in the cat-and-mouse stealth terror that happens when Yoo-bin leaves his apartment just to find some food.
Add to this the near bottle-episode feeling of the first half, when we see Joon-woo struggle to keep his sanity, there is a lot of unease and a lingering sense of dread that permeates the story, punctuated by an occasional scene of carnage as zombies devour people outside or try to break into his apartment. Normally being on the third floor in a modern, well insulated flat would be a secure place to ride out the apocalypse but these aren’t just regular zombies: rather, the infested seem able to work together and communicate, acting more like hunters looking for anyone still uninfected. It adds a layer of uncertainty to the story, and makes any attempts to contact the outside by Joon-woo feel extra risky.
Yoo Ah-in is excellent in role, having to carry most of it, only spreading the load when Park Shin-hye shows up. Together they have an easy-going chemistry and it’s a shame they didn’t get to share the screen together much. It’s a fair trade-off for the solo storytelling that precedes it, though – think I Am Legend, but if it actually got better once other people showed up. Together, along with the stellar direction and a good story makes #Alive a really good addition to Korea’s ever-growing roster of top notch zombie films. Sure, the fad might be dead and done over here but like any good horror film monsters, you can’t keep a good genre down.
Verdict: It never tries to reinvent the wheel, but #Alive makes for a highly entertaining and gripping prediction for how 2020 will probably end.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Last supper ideas: Ottogi jin ramen seems good
Hair care: So Joon-woo shaves his face and sorts his roots out every day, huh?
FM Radio: How does a streamer not have any aux cables lying around?
Distant explosions: Why are there always distant explosions in these movies
Also known as: #살아있다
Director: Cho Il-hyung
Writers: Cho Il-hyung, Matt Naylor
Yoo Ah-in – Oh Joon-woo
Park Shin-hye – Kim Yoo-bin