#Alive Movie Review: A diverting but not outstanding zombie horror


Yesterday I saw #Alive pop into my Netflix recommended list, and being the fan of Korean zombie horrors that I am (predominantly of Kingdom), I had to check it out. I was in fact surprised I hadn't heard of it yet, given the major cast (Yoo Ah In and Park Shin Hye star). For context, I didn't much care for Train of Busan (too tragic and morbid for what it was) and I'm seeing that zombie horror films are becoming almost cliche for how common they are. That said, I had hope for #Alive given the strong casting and promotion. Overall, I would rate this as a 5/10 - engaging and thrilling for the 1.5 hour run time, but ultimately rather plotless and pointless.

#Alive stars a gaming livestreamer Oh Joon Woo (Yoo Ah In) who essentially wakes up one morning, looks outside and sees packs of zombies running around attacking and infecting people on the street. From there begins a tale of survival, whereby he has to stay indoors with few groceries and insufficient water for a period of weeks. 

During this period, things get pretty bleak before he encounters Kim Yu Bin (Park Shin Hye), a neighboring girl across the way who has been observing him through her binoculars. Together they help each other survive various challenges, from lack of food to zombies trying to crawl up the building. This culminates in an attempted escape to the top floor of another building, followed by more challenges and plenty of zombie-slashing violence.

What I liked is that we jump into the premise. There's no set-up of the disease and we are never told where or how it originated - for the purposes of this film we just take it as a given. The story essentially is like an ultra dark survival tale, with both leads having to ration their resources and fight for their survival against all sorts of enemies. I like that they don't try to shove a romance angle at us. Sure, it may be implied, but there's nothing but mutual respect and care for each other as humans in terms of what we're shown. 

Yoo Ah In and Park Shin Hye are well-cast here in that both excel at angsty drama moments and at wringing tears out to help us believe in their misery, which is quite perfect for an apocalyptic zombie tale. Special kudos for Yoo Ah In who is so completely emotive and certainly carries the bulk of the emotional weight (note that Park is only on-screen for about half the movie, so Yoo's definitely the center point). He makes us care for Joon Woo even when we know next to nothing about him.

That said, I wasn't big on the show's use of hashtags and social media (starting from when Joon Woo posts a headshot of himself with #IWillSurvive at one point) as it feels hammed in and not entirely well connected to the story (save for some peripheral tie at the end).

Unfortunately, the action-filled nature of the film is also a big downside. We spend the entirety of the run-time on various violent and fast moving fight scenes, leaving minimal time for character development or story. What feels empty about this premise is how little we know about either character (we never learn what circumstances led to Yu Bin being alone in her apartment with an axe) and the lack of any myth behind the virus makes the premise feel inherently unbelievable. Our two leads survival also rests on some frankly skeptical-inducing moments of luck more than skill (see below): 

  1. how did the zombie wife not bite Yu Bin just because of a piece of cloth on her face? Why did she go quiet if she was trying to bite her?
  2. how did a helicopter manage to fly below the 8th floor and emerge up just in time to save our heroes?) Helicopters are loud so there's no way they wouldn't have heard it if it was so close, and I don't think any helicopter could fly at such a low elevation
  3. The suicide moment was pretty dark for me. Certainly I could sympathize, but yeah overall this movie is pretty dismal up til the end (and even then, because it does the annoying thing of cutting off right when they get rescued and not showing anything after, much like Train of Busan)
end spoilers

Overall, it's a fantastical premise that'll be enjoyable if you're craving a mindless action sequence. I found it fairly empty, and again if you're looking for a well executed and actually plot driven zombie series, Kingdom is the way to go. This one was a middle of the road movie, and perhaps portends to the over-manufacturing of zombie horrors in recent years (I don't plan on watching Peninsula for the record).


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