This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
There are few genres more overused, tired, yet consistently produced than the zombie sub-genre; while for the most part, you will find the undead as an excuse for gore, cheap scares, and sexual exploitation in b-movies, filmmakers with the budget and the talent have regularly used the genre to great effect. Zombies are a known commodity for most fans and that allows filmmakers to use the genre in a variety of ways, like Train to Busan which alters the skill set of zombies to create interesting new ways to test its characters. #Alive (despite its awful title) is one of those movies; it uses the undead as set dressing and as a metaphor to explore its themes in a unique and exciting way that is well worth a watch.
#Alive tells the story of Oh Joon-woo who gets caught in his parent’s apartment during the zombie apocalypse and tries to survive; isolated and with limited resources, he has to make ends meet until the chaos is sorted and rescue is a possibility. The best thing about #Alive can be explained by just looking at that description: It is both something you’ve seen before and a unique use of a well-established setting. There isn’t too much more to the plot, so twists and turns are not where the movie injects creativity, it is in the characters and themes it is exploring through this genre; the audience knows what zombies are and their use, so the movie just goes with it and uses the time saved from setting up stakes and the world to establish characters, motivations, and the overall theme explored between the lines. Zombies are a simple yet effective way to create tension and stakes, but they also work beautifully as allegory and as a way to push characters to explore their mental stability and their desire to survive; I won’t spoil too much of the movie, but I will say that you shouldn’t go into the movie hoping for a thrilling story, but looking at the characters and their situation, and explore it through them and what they are going through.
Moreover, people should not expect great characterization either – which is a surprise given how much focus is placed on characters. #Alive is one of those movies that wants you to relate with the type of characters represented, not these particular ones; it is a foggy representation of someone you know (or yourself) rather than a detailed expression of a realistic character. That is why the most obvious reason why this movie works is the acting; Ah-In Yoo as Oh Joon-woo and Shin-Hye Park as Kim Yoo-bin are basically the only two actors in the movie, but the use the added focus and weight placed on them to thrive and deliver fantastic performances. Ah-In Yoo delivers a much more expressive and over-the-top performance that makes his character more relatable and open, which draws you in immediately and gets you to care about what happens to him, while Shin-Hye Park delivers a much more subdued and introverted performance that makes her character more mysterious and harder to crack. They both share the burden of the movie in their shoulders and make the experience as a whole poignant and entertaining to watch.
Moreover, Il Cho’s directing is on point; while his style is conventional and less spectacular than it could have been, his decisions are very effective and serve the movie well. He chooses to make the movie less about reading between the lines and more about blatantly obvious visual and textual metaphors, however I never felt he dumbed down the experience, instead it felt appropriate for what the movie was going for. Furthermore, the pacing, the focus on location, resources, and creating an interesting timeline for a survival movie that alters details and focuses on considerations we don’t normally see, as well as foreshadowing and implementing objects and ideas early on that will be used later, are handled very well throughout; with a few notable exceptions.
The movie has a few cases where it drops the ball and becomes somewhat generic or breaks the immersion in severe ways. When zombies are used metaphorically or as a way to add tension and danger, the movie is excellent; however, when zombies are used as a scare or for gore/unease tactic, then the movie becomes disappointingly generic. There are also moments where the movie’s logic creates problems with suspension of disbelief in needless ways; for example, there is a moment in day 7 where Joon-woo eats noodles that are labeled as “last supper”, clearly indicating the lack of resources, but that only comes into focus on day 21. There are moments in-between that show his lack of strength and hunger, but it places so much focus on days and resources that this is easily avoidable by making the gap smaller. By far though, the biggest problem this movie has is that it’s not conventionally scary; there are some moments of action-horror that work alright and some moments of good build up and suspenseful scenes, but while I was worried about the characters well-being, I was never scared.
That’s a shame because I know most people will pass on this movie because of language and the unconventional way it tries to explore its themes; but horror movies can be so much more than jump-scares and cheap thrills. #Alive will not keep you awake at night because of what you saw, but it will make you think, discuss, and hopefully heal or help others to. I just wish it had scared me a little as well (and had chosen a better title).