Korean Horror (K-Horror) films are some of my favorite. With the genre streaming service Shudder beefing up its K-Horror offerings this year, it’s refreshing to see Netflix do the same. While the latter of these two has many K-dramas that air week to week across all genres, there is a noticeable absence of horror offerings. But with #Alive, a 2020 South Korean zombie film directed by Cho Il-hyung and Netflix Original in the United States, the platform offers up the most exciting K-horror title I’ve seen all year. The film stars Yoo Ah-in and Park Shin-hye as our main characters, but more importantly, our only characters for the first two acts of the film. The film is based on the 2019 script “Alone” by Matt Naylor who co-adapted his script with Cho and focuses on a young man surviving a zombie apocalypse stuck in his apartment, alone, and with video games as your number one skill.
#Alive centers on Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) who spends his days alone live streaming video games, being a recluse, and from what you can tell from his room’s set-up buying just about every shiny new electronics offering her can. Delivering one of the strongest openings in a zombie movie, we get to see what happens when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan in real-time. While playing what looks like Player Battlegrounds Unkown, he begins to hear players asking for help and telling him to turn on the TV, and when he does, he sees that a virus is spreading across Korea. In disbelief, he looks outside and the worst is confirmed as he watches car crash, crazed people eat each other, and has to make the decision to board himself in his apartment and try to survive.
With little food and water, and his utilities being cut off one by one, we watch as Joon-woo is pushed to the brink. He’s alone, he’s scared, and when he has to confront the reality that his family is probably dead he breaks. But, Joon-Woo isn’t the only character we get the chance to see. While Yoo is phenomenal in his role and keeps the viewer engaged as the only person on camera for the bulk of the film, it’s the addition of Park as Yoo-bin that solidifies #ALIVE’s zombie success.
Now Joon-woo is not hapless. He uses his video game knowledge and brute strength to leave his apartment and strategize and he survives. But he lacks the pure survival skill that Yoo-bin brings to the table. She is the hero of this film. Her apartment is packed with hiking and mountaineering essentials and she knows her way around an axe, delivering the best action sequences of the film. Yoo-bin is anything but a damsel, and she takes charge in a survival role. That said, while both Joon-woo and Yoo-bin are great characters separately, Cho does a great job of bringing their stories together while still keeping the two distanced in separate apartment buildings.
In one instance Cho puts two separate shots of our leads together on screen, Joon-woo in his apartment and Yoo-bin in hers. They both walk each other through making ramen and as the environments and leads parallel each other we see their differences but also their similarities. This helps build a connection between not only the two in the scene but from the audience to them. This is followed up the desperate need to unite as Yoo-bin’s apartment becomes closer to being taken over. While they mirror each other’s actions in prep, Yoo-bin’s resiliency and training take center stage as she makes the decision to run to Joon-woo before he is ready, risking it alone, instead of allowing him to assist.
Joon-woo and Yoo-bin have grounded protagonists with escapes and moments of survival that feel believable. They’re smart apart and together, and this makes them a pair to root as the zombie hoard attacks. Additionally, Cho’s use of space to showcase how contained each character is masterful. We understand how small their apartments are, how narrow the hallways are, and how on street can feel like 20. But while this is because of how Cho directs each scene, it’s also because of how well done the zombie designs are.
From their visual design that is akin to Train to Busan to their habits, the zombies in #ALIVE feel unique to this property. While they do some absurd acts, the differences between them and other zombies we’ve seen in Korean or American zombie films allows the viewer to suspend disbelief. Plus, there is nothing scarier than a zombie that has some of their faculties left. Additionally, the deaths – both zombie and otherwise – are all intriguing and each serves one of two purposes. They either showcase violence and gratuity or they have deep emotional impact on the characters watching. This is a balance that both satiates the story and the need of being creative in the zombie subgenre.
Overall, #ALIVE is a film that checks all of the things I want from a zombie film. Its pace is interesting, its characters are dynamic, its setting is unique, and above all else, it’s entertaining. There isn’t a better zombie film on Netflix right now, so it’s time to push this one to the top of your queue.
#ALIVE is available now exclusively on Netflix.
#ALIVE is a film that checks all of the things I want from a zombie film. Its pace is interesting, its characters are dynamic, it’s setting is unique, and above all else, it’s entertaining. There isn’t a better zombie film on Netflix right now, so it’s time to push this one to the top of your queue.