Zombie movies are challenging Kia and K-Pop as Korea’s major export, these days. “Train to Busan” and “Peninsula” were big budget theatrical entries, and “#Alive” arrives as the Netflix version, lower stakes, smaller scale, more intimate by design.
It doesn’t have the thrills of “Busan,” and its moments of pathos never quite achieve lump-in-the-throat status. But it’s a sturdy enough study in isolation in survival mode and the despair that comes with it.
COVID19 timely? You bet.
Jun-u (Ah-in Yoo) is a 20ish slacker who wakes up to an empty apartment and a note from his mother. He needs to hit the market as they’re low on food.
OK, maybe after a few hours playing his online combat game. Damned if one of his teammates doesn’t doesn’t blurt out “Turn on your TV” as another asks, “Is that CGI?”
The zombie outbreak begins, “aggressive” people attacking the uninfected, mass hysteria which he can see from the balcony of his high-rise apartment. His first encounter with a stranger amid all this mayhem doesn’t go well. The guy’s been bitten. We see him jerk, bleed from the eyes, and spasm into full out “BRAINS” attack, thanks to some clever editing.
A final voice mail from his family tells him to “Just do what they say on TV” and “Just make sure have enough food and water to survive for 60 days.”
Plainly, they expected him to shop rather than go first-person-online-shooter.
Snippets of the pandemic come in via TV, as long as it lasts — and social media, as long as that’s up. Selfies still shots, begging for help, or doing something stupid. Jun-u vlogs into the void, forgetfully suggesting “Don’t forget to subscribe (in Korean, with English subtitles)” after every entry.
There’s little to eat, too much risk outside his door. And maybe a short-attention-span/instant-gratification gamer isn’t the best-equipped bloke to manage this. All it takes is a single TV ad for ramen to have him devour “The last meal,” an instant ramen bucket meant to help him make it through two months.
He despairs at the the horrors he’s seen on the streets below, resolves to “never go out” and as the days pass, loses hope.
And then he’s “contacted” by a stranger in the apartment tower across the way. Kim Yu-Bin (Park Shin-hye) is just as alone, but more mature, resourceful and better-prepared for this. Or so it seems. But how can they team up?
This isn’t a particularly ambitious zombie film, but the scriptural problem-solving makes good use of the sorts of toys/gear young people might have on hand, at home.
The leads make their characters just quirky enough to hold our interest. We root for them as a couple, quarantining a hundred yards or so apart. There’s survivalism in every zombie film, but the “relationship” stuff reminds me of the German film “Rammbock” from ten years ago.
There truly is nothing new under the sun of the Living Dead, so don’t come to “#Alive” expecting to be dazzled, just favorable impressed. And don’t expect to be surprised. Even the third act “twist” has turned up in other zombie fare — films and/or TV.
This is a zombie film as comfort food, predictable but just satisfying enough to come off.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, gory violence, profanity, smoking
Cast: Ah-in Yoo, Park Shin-hye
Credits: Directed by Il Cho, script by Il Cho, Matt Naylor. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38