Written and directed by Il Cho, co-written by Matt Naylor, the rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. Starring: Ah-In Yoo, Shin-Hye Park, Hyun-Wook, Bae-soo Jeon and Hye-Won Oh.
One of the instinctual problems with this film is the title, it immediately gives the impression of something gimmicky or unbearably teen focused which it isn’t, so despite the fact that the title is an accurate representation of the film, it unnecessarily knocks it down by so many pegs and likely will put some people off watching it. What the film actually is, is a very realistic portrayal of a young person today in a crisis, it’s incredibly accurate in its representation of the likely reactions and choices of many of Gen Z. It takes into account a lot of the changes to a person’s life growing up in the 2010s; social media skills replacing survival, tech skills replacing common sense, resulting in someone who is actually intelligent but whose actions make them seem like an idiot. That’s where Oh Joon-woo (Yoo) comes in, he’s smart when it comes to the things he spends his time on but otherwise he’s a moron: playing Call of Duty in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, forgetting to ration when a commercial for noodles makes him hungry, asking people to “please subscribe” in his apocalyptic video diary, relentlessly unable to wake-up before 11am and just generally getting drunk, resulting in some unfortunate choices.
The phrase “It’s funny because it’s true” comes in strong here, all the touches that reflect a young, modern society are incredibly enjoyable to watch because they will cut so close to home for a lot of people. It’s ironic that all those touches feel really clever but consequently make Oh Joon-woo extremely dumb, the writing hits the nail on the head so closely that it’s very satisfying. It goes to real lengths to push how irritating his character can be, he’s frustratingly stupid and yet it feels intentional and that the want to shout at him just pulls you in deeper. Then you have Kim Yoo-bin (Park), who turns the usual gender roles on their head, she’s no damsel in distress, she’s similarly irritated by Joon-woo’s stupidity, she’s got strong survival instincts and she’s surprisingly agile. It creates a very interesting dynamic between the two, because despite how that sounds it isn’t one looking after the other, they learn to work together playing off their strengths to survive. One of the more surprising elements is the vein of comedy running throughout, it’s not a predominant theme to the film as a whole but it adds a great deal of sympathy, making the lead characters feel incredibly relatable.
Yoo and Park have a great chemistry, it’s not inherently romantic and yet the possibility does linger but it was a perfect choice by the writers to leave it entirely unsaid as it would have cheapened their friendship. There’s a satisfying progress to their friendship, starting on opposite sides and slowly finding middle ground, at its heart it’s very everyday despite taking place during a zombie apocalypse. Yoo’s performance can feel slightly over the top at times, he goes fairly primal and very physical in his most emotional moments so it will likely work better for some than others but it does suit the nature of his character. On the complete opposite side, Park’s performance is quiet, thoughtful and refined, her character is incredibly composed and careful but slowly comes out of her shell as she gets to know Joon-woo. The majority of the rest of the cast are playing zombies so while they are considered more of a herd, it’s still easy to judge their performance because the physicality and choreography that has gone into it hits a lot of the classic fast zombie behaviours. The way that they move is purposefully disjointed to make it seem as far from human as possible, the unnatural bone clicking and uncomfortable positions, red eyes and thick veins bulging from their arms and necks, the combination of it all is realistically the strongest element of horror, as the violence or gore itself is relatively scaled back compared to the majority.
However, the zombie aspects of the story feel very familiar, yes they take on a much more modern tone to them but the physical aspects of the story don’t feel new at all, a lot of them will feel reminiscent of films that have come before it. There’s also some inconsistency with how the zombies act, any horror fan will tell you that they’re either fast or slow, these fit more comfortably in the fast category but at the same time, when it suits the film, they become slow. There are also a few other inconsistencies in the script, for instance in the beginning when Joon-woo wakes up, his clock says that it’s six degrees Celsius outside leading you to believe it’s winter but he’s frequently leaving the balcony doors wide open wearing only a t-shirt, while Kim Yoo-bin wears multiple layers and blankets. Foreshadowing is also something heavily used throughout so there’s nothing terribly surprising, you can generally predict most of what will happen but it thankfully doesn’t limit your enjoyment.
#Alive is smart, funny, gripping, surprisingly relevant and authentic for a film about a zombie apocalypse. It’s unfortunate that its marketing and title will lead people to believe it has fallen prey to solely being made for a Gen Z audience when it’s actually a surprisingly sharp portrayal of their generation, made in a very accessible manner. It satisfyingly captures modern society, just the moment of sheer delight at discovering Nutella says enough about how accurate it is. Yoo and Park make a natural and charismatic duo and the writing takes the time to build a genuine friendship between the two, as well as an interesting dynamic outside of the boring, sexist norm. It definitely falls more closely into the drama category but it has plenty of zombies to keep the threat level going throughout, creating an entertaining balance between the two. If nothing else, this film proves that South Korea is cornering the market on high quality zombie flicks.