#Alive, a Korean zombie horror-drama now available on Netflix, forgoes the need for backstory and places you within the action from the beginning. That’s much to the movie’s benefit. Director Cho Il-hyung chooses that setting to make the audience just as uneasy as the characters are. Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) is a gamer who views an onslaught of a zombie outbreak from his top-floor apartment. His family is out in the world and he’s left wondering what happened to them – not to mention, a dwindling supply, food and drinks, and technology.
The audience knows as much as Joon-woo does about the outbreak – shown through news broadcasts and the little internet he has. #Alive’s first act is a character study of one person trying to keep their sanity while staying alive. Joon-won gets to view how deadly these zombies can be up close and personal. From there, days go by and he succumbs to the hopelessness of the setting. Cho hits Joon-won in different ways – from him witnessing a policewoman get eaten outside and a frantic voicemail message from his family of them in danger. #Alive taxes him from both a physical and mental standpoint. While we know little about him, enough time passes where we emphasize for his situation. When all hope is seems lost, Joon-won discovers another survivor, Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye).
#Alive’s screenplay co-written by Il-hyung and Matt Naylor serves to combine emotional beats of isolation and hopelessness. The pace of the film goes from anxiety to tranquility, and it doesn’t feel disjointed. It’s eerily timely given the state of the world and the COVID pandemic. Many of us around the world feel the sting of being away from those that we love and care for. The places we call home can feel like a prison because we have to protect ourselves from the virus.
Yoo-bin and Joon-won have a considerable distance between them given that they live in apartment buildings across from each other. They have to find different ways to communicate. Once they do, the conversations they have hold that much more weight. An emotional theme of mortality pops up throughout #Alive. The numbers of the zombies grow and the principal characters are insanely outnumbered. As they fight through exhaustion, there’s this thought of just ending it all before they become monsters. It’s because they find each other that they both decide to press on.
The zombies themselves are vicious, full of lesions, and relentless energy. As the movie progresses, there are subtle hints that some of them learn and get smarter – putting our characters under dire stress and circumstances. #Alive only occurs within a few confined settings. The cinematography style of Won-ho Son makes places like an apartment hallway or the street corner between buildings feel bigger than they are. On the flip side, the movie makes spaces claustrophobic in how it interprets space between our main characters and the zombies.
If there is one criticism about the movie, it occurs within the third act. There’s a character that gets introduced to Joon-woo and Yoo-bin who serves as a human villain of sorts. While there has been a nefarious element in terms of the devolution of society in other mediums such as Kingdom or The Walking Dead, they have time to gestate. Since there are few characters within the movie, a theme of humans electing to show the worst parts of themselves out of desperation is not as effective.
Much like 2016’s Train To Busan, #Alive puts together the gory and existential dread of a zombie movie and place heart within 90-plus minutes that can make the audience feel the pulse of both. You want to root for these characters’ survival and also understand the hopelessness that they feel in the interim.