SCREENCRUNCH: But don’t get us wrong, it’s a zombie movie you need to watch
There’s a new Korean zombie film that’s out today. Well, new-ish because it was shown in South Korea earlier this June. Oh and there are, in fact, two new-ish Korean zombie films out this week—one will be showing at an outdoor cinema at a mall in Pasay, while the other you can watch on an online streaming service.
Let’s talk about the latter, and why #Alive is a video game pretending to be a zombie film. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
(*WARNING: Some spoilers ahead*)
Like most zombie movies, #Alive starts with everything as normal as it could possibly be. Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in, Descendants of the Sun) is your normal, regular dude who lives with his parents. Except he isn’t that ordinary. As the film establishes quickly, Joon-woo is a gamer. He isn’t a casual video gamer, mind you, as his PC setup or gaming rig shows. He has a bit of a following in the online gaming world.
In the first few minutes of the film, we see Joon-woo alone in their apartment, with his parents and sister out somewhere. He reads a note from his mom, telling him to do some groceries. He ignores the note and proceeds to play a video game. Then the world turned topsy-turvy.
After moments typical of any zombie movie—scenes of panicked crowds, lots of blood and gore, people crying on the streets, Joon-woo getting nearly bitten—#Alive’s pace changes a bit. It slows down to follow how Joon-woo tries to survive in their apartment on his own, without enough supplies since he didn’t decide to do the groceries earlier.
It is in these moments that Yoo Ah-in shines as an actor. You could really feel his anguish, his frustration at not being able to do anything. You could also see how Joon-woo’s techie skills as a gamer works to his advantage in a zombie outbreak (although he could’ve learned a thing or two from Zombieland).
Things speed up again when Joon-woo realizes he isn’t the lone survivor in their apartment complex and he “meets” Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye, Stairway to Heaven and Pinocchio). Like Joon-woo, Yoo-bin has also been trying to survive the zombie outbreak by herself, although with better provisions. Long story short, the two of them try to run for their lives together. The choice of casting Park Shin-hye was a great one since Yoo’s often intense acting could only be expertly matched by an actress of her caliber.
Although it uses a theme that’s been explored countless times in films and TV shows, in comic books and books and video games, #Alive provides a refreshing take on the zombie survival genre. It does all of this while also establishing a passable depth to the story, exploring themes like isolation and desperation in a manner that would resonate to many modern viewers.
So why do we say that #Alive is a video game more than a film? Of course, we didn’t mean that literally. After all, you’re not going to be able to control the characters (duh!) nor is it like that choose-your-own-ending Black Mirror special. The video game vibe comes from how the film sets things up, showing bits and pieces that anyone who has played survival video games would take note of. For instance, during one particularly intense scene, the camera work moves from showing items that Joon-woo can consider getting to plan his escape from his apartment—like setting up loot you can farm off corpses. There are also lots of scenes that show both Joon-woo and Yoo-bin planning their route from point A to point B, like how you would in a zombie video game. Joon-woo also uses a lot of gadgets to get by.
Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like your Train to Busan or even your Kingdom or your Walking Dead. Although it uses a theme that’s been explored countless times in films and TV shows, in comic books and books and video games, #Alive provides a refreshing take on the zombie survival genre. It does all of this while also establishing a passable depth to the story, exploring themes like isolation and desperation in a manner that would resonate to many modern viewers.
So for its fairly original treatment of a genre we’ve seen too much of in film, and for superb acting from Yoo and Park, we give #Alive a 4 out 5.
Oh, and one last thing. Ever noticed how nobody in Korean zombie flicks uses the word zombie? Or it could just be lost in the subtitles.
Directed by Cho Il-hyung and adapted from the 2019 script Alone by Matt Naylor, #Aliveis now streaming on Netflix.