Bringing the Genre Back from the Dead
As of late, the zombie genre has gradually been turning into a husk of its former, glorious self. An oversaturation of bad films have flooded the market; movies tend to focus more on action than the true horror of the situation and the absence of practical effects in lieu of dodgy CGI have all taken a toll on what was a once-loved mainstay in cinema. Train to Busan laughs at these recent tropes and provides a film that can stand with the classics. Filled with the heart found in the likes of ‘Maggie’ and coupled with the tense dread of the massive hordes in ‘World War Z’; this film is a combination of all the best elements of zombie films from over the years.
The story is a simple one: father Seok-woo and daughter Soo-an (played by Gong Yoo and Kim Soo-an respectively) board a train travelling from Seoul to Busan to visit their estranged wife/mother. Don’t be fooled by the straightforward set up to this film, though, as before too long we are introduced to a multitude of characters, each with their own motivations and values, and the real journey begins. The human element of this film is a standout, and you will promptly find yourself cheering for the characters you want to survive and gleefully wishing certain characters a grim demise sooner rather than later. Over the rough 110 minute runtime, characters grow, romances blossom, alliances form and zombies kill a lot of people. Speaking of which…
These aren’t your slow shuffling zombies of decades past – instead, we are treated to the rage-addled flesh eaters of the contemporary, with director Yeon Sang-Ho providing a fresh take on the zombie archetype, as they move from one carriage to another tearing apart travellers with ease. However, while gore is present throughout the film, it never slips into the gratuitous; there is only ever a tasteful measure displayed, and the sheer number of on-screen fatalities should keep you satiated. Brought to life, or rather, brought to death by a healthy mix of prosthetics, makeup and CGI, Train to Busan starts with one infected passenger and ends with an entire train full of undead commuters.
Nevertheless, this isn’t just a mindless zombie romp; there are heartfelt stories to be told and it turns out a train full of zombies is the perfect setting to tell them. The main character is a workaholic father who, despite his best efforts, is never around for his daughter when she needs him most; a flaw he must learn to overcome if he is to survive the odds set before them both. There is a heavy importance placed on the kindness and good nature of humanity in this film, and Train to Busan is filled with great character development like this for all of its supporting cast as well; quarrelling sisters, young romance and snobbish businessmen are all given ample opportunity to shine. The political undertones scattered throughout the film don’t stop there, however, with a strong emphasis on economic classes either rallying together or neglecting one another providing an allegory that makes crystal clear the opinions and beliefs of the director.
No film is perfect, though, and Train to Busan is no exception. One element I have a particular problem with is that while the overall and individual narratives shine in this film, there are a few issues that just can’t be ignored, specifically to do with the time it takes to reanimate back to life seemingly being random rather than a set-in-stone rule; a small inconvenience that unfortunately pulls you out of the moment. Additionally, there are a few leaps in logic that lessen the experience of the film, like characters making questionable decisions or the fact that phones are able to receive signal while inside of a tunnel. These points, however, along with CGI that can at times be lacklustre, are still not enough to fully blemish the appeal of this film, as the positives by far outweigh the negatives.
Train to Busan is the zombie film we have unknowingly been waiting for; the combination of a great narrative paired with the direction that keeps the tension turned all the way up to produce an instant classic that any zombie connoisseur must see. And while there are a few negatives that tarnish the film, the great premise, fantastic cast and edge-of-your-seat tension more than make up for them, producing the best zombie film of the last five years, if not longer.
Interested in my work? Want to know more about me? Why not take a look at my main site over at mitchellcork.com