Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Park Shin-hye, Jeon Bae-soo & Lee Hyuk-wook
Directed by: Il Cho
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: September 2020
Running Time: 98 mins
Synopsis: While a grisly virus ravages a Korean city, videogame streamer Joon-woo tries to stay safe by locking himself inside his apartment. Just as he loses hope, he discovers another survivor.
#Alive is a South-Korean zombie horror film that focuses most of its action within an apartment block as survivors barricade themselves into their homes to avoid the end of the world occurring outside. This is a stark deviation from the traditional zombie film plot which typically has its survivors attempting to reach a specific location. The emphasis on loneliness and isolation gives the film a more reflective tone, focusing more on the human psyche and the emotional toll that comes from being trapped in your home and cut-off from the outside world. Coming out so soon after the initial COVID-19 lockdown, it is an extremely relevant movie, and while the situation we all endured wasn’t quite as horrific as this, it certainly feels more relatable than ever.
The lead character Oh Joon-Woo (played by Yoo Ah-in) is a videogame streamer, and his sedentary lifestyle proves to be the thing that keeps him safe as he is at home alone when the zombie outbreak occurs. Yoo Ah-in’s range is extraordinary, showing fear and desperation but also a goofy Gen-Z attitude. There are moments when Oh Joon-Woo produces vlog video diaries to keep himself sane, but these moments feel authentic and not gimmicky. Director Il Cho doesn’t make this his focus, and as a result, it feels like a normal coping mechanism as opposed to a way to market the film to streamers. Much like how George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead was a critique on consumerism, #Alive feels like a critique on how today’s youth live life through a screen and form connections online rather than in-person. Only in the wake of a zombie apocalypse is Oh Joon-Woo able to make a real connection with another living person.
While the film does feel somewhat smaller in scale to other zombie films through its confined location and budget, it does boast some incredible zombie make-up and performances. There is something about the design of Korean zombies that make them look much more demonic and terrifying than American zombies, which tend to just be decomposed corpses. The transformation from human to zombie is equally as horrific with bones snapping and cracking and blood pouring from the eyes – a radical difference from the typical slow moaning and groaning of a “Romero Zombie”. There were a number of dynamic action set-pieces throughout the film, whether it was a zombie scaling up the apartment block determined to eat our heroine, or our heroes meeting in person for the first time in the courtyard amid a horde of ravenous zombies. There is a real sense of tension in these action sequences as countless zombies jump at our protagonists – it feels chaotic and unpredictable, although it is clearly well-choreographed to look that way.
The third act of the movie delivers a surprising twist that threatens to take the plot in an extremely dark direction, although it doesn’t quite go as dark as expected. It was still an impressive swerve, and it is a testament to all of the actor’s performances that help create a sense of unease before the threat is revealed. The ending of the film itself had the potential to stretch credibility to breaking point, but the final end-shots provide some much-needed context and act as a well-earned pay-off to the earlier vlogs, helping diminish some of the plot convenience.
#Alive is a refreshing entry into the crowded zombie genre, not just because it captures the current zeitgeist of videogame streaming and Gen-Z behaviours, but because it focuses on loneliness and isolation. Made all the more relatable by the real-world COVID-19 pandemic, the character-driven elements of the film resonate strongly – particularly the sequence when Oh Joon-Woo gets a voicemail from his family. The performances are incredibly nuanced for a horror movie, and director Il Cho avoids all of the cliché pitfalls that one would expect from the “videogame streamer trapped in a zombie apocalypse” elevator pitch.
Score – ★★★★
#Alive is available to stream on Netflix.