Some of you probably know how much I have been getting tired of zombie movies. Except several notable cases such as “28 Days Later…” (2002) or “Zombieland” (2009), most of those zombie flicks did not entertain or terrify me much due to their failure to provide something other than zombies themselves, and that is the main reason why I was delighted with South Korean film “Train to Busan” (2016) and its recent sequel “Peninsula” (2020), both of which did some nice extra work besides presenting those flesh-craving entities on the screen.
In case of “#Alive”, another recent South Korean zombie movie which happened to be released in South Korean movie theaters early in this year before “Peninsula” and then got released on Netflix early in this month, it is sadly less creative and substantial than the aforementioned two South Korean zombie movies. While it surely draws your attention as promptly focusing on the suddenly isolated status of its hero during its first part, it only comes to be hampered by weak characterization and sophomoric storytelling during its middle part, and it is all the more disappointing to see the rest of the movie resorting to a number of glaring plot contrivances without much sense of urgent or desperation.
During the opening scene, we are introduced to Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in), a lad who has apparently resided in his family apartment without anything to do except playing online games in his private room. When he wakes up in one morning, he finds a note from his mother asking him to do some grocery shopping, but he simply ignores her request and then embarks on playing his favorite online game as usual while there is no one else in the apartment.
And then something happens. Shortly after his smartphone receives a public emergency message, Joon-woo turns on the TV in the living room, and he sees an urgent TV report on an unidentified epidemic being spread all over Seoul and the rest of South Korea. When he quickly looks outside from the veranda of the apartment, his apartment complex neighborhood has already been thrown into pandemonium, and he soon comes to witness several gruesome sights, which clearly signify, yes, a zombie epidemic.
After subsequently managing to survive one perilous moment, Joon-woo locks the front door of the apartment, which he also blocks with the refrigerator of the kitchen just in case. He seems to be safe for now, but he cannot help but nervous as constantly being aware of numerous zombies wandering here and there outside the apartment, and, to his shock and awe, it turns out that some of those zombies are a little more resourceful than expected despite their infected brains.
Anyway, Joon-woo has no choice but to stay inside the apartment, and the situation becomes gloomier for him day by day. While there is some food in the apartment, it can only help him sustain this circumstance only for a few weeks, and he also finds himself getting more isolated as there is no way of communicating with the outside world. While electricity is somehow supplied as before (Please don’t ask me how that is possible), water is eventually cut off, so he has to depend on those expensive bottles of whiskey belonging to his father.
The screenplay by director Cho Il-hyung and his co-writer Matt Naylor, which is adapted from Naylor’s original screenplay “Alone”, tries to generate some tension as its hero struggles to survive day by day, but the overall result is not so successful as mostly delivering tediously conventional elements to us. Yes, we surely get several zombie scenes as expected, but they do not surprise us much as simply letting zombies suddenly popping up and here around its hero, and the movie is also pretty clumsy in the handling of a few humorous moments in the middle of the story.
Yoo Ah-in, who has been mainly known to international audiences as the lead performer of Lee Chang Dong’s “Burning” (2018), tries really hard to convey its hero’s accumulating anxiety and despair to us, but, alas, he is often on the verge of overacting as he has frequently been in many of his previous films including “Veteran” (2015) and “The Throne” (2015), and his occasionally hammy efforts on the screen only illuminate how superficial his character is in many aspects. To be frank with you, his character is pretty uninteresting as being a classic example of your average South Korean loser lad, and it is also not so entertaining to watch his character doing a number of stupid things along the story. For example, his character is so overwhelmed by a certain melodramatic moment of his that he suddenly smashes the TV just because he is very angry, and that is just one of many contrived moments in the film.
At least, the movie is later brightened up a bit by the appearance of Park Shin-hye, who plays a survivor living in another apartment building right across from the apartment building where Joon-woo lives. The movie could be more interesting if it focused more on Park’s character, but, sadly, her character is more or less than another convenient plot element, and the following interactions between her character and Joon-woo are not particularly believable due to their badly written dialogues.
By the way, many local audiences hated the finale of the movie featuring a tacked-on deux ex machina, and I fully understand their anger and disbelief. Sure, the finale of “Jaws” (1975) is as implausible as that, but we can accept it because of what has been carefully and intensely built up to that point, and “Alive” does not have anything close to that for making its finale work.
In conclusion, “#Alive” is not as terrible as I feared, but I often got bored and annoyed while I watched it yesterday, and I was glad that I promptly watched “Enola Holmes” (2020) after enduring this bland genre piece. If you still want to watch a South Korean zombie flick instead, I will recommend you “Train to Busan” or “Peninsula”, and I assure you that you will have a more productive time with either of them.