Sunday, December 25, 2016

Horror Film Review

Train to Busan (2016):  I've been waiting for this Korean zombie flick for many months.  It matched Marvel's The Avengers' Rotten Tomatoes score and been lauded by many as the best zombie film ever made. it?  Perhaps not, but damn, it's close.

One thing Korean filmmakers are masters at is pathos (the only other zombie movie that remotely comes close is Maggie).  In this case, we have workaholic, hedge-fund manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) reluctantly agreeing to accompany his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) from Seoul to Busan via the KTX bullet train.  For geographical clarification, the capital Seoul is the country's largest city and about as far north as you can get.  Busan, the second largest city, is on the southern tip of the peninsula.  The point is that it's a long train ride.  Soo-an desperately wants to see her mom (Seok Woo's ex-wife) in Busan.  So they go.  During these establishing scenes, we are given hints that a bio-chemical company is attempting to contain an incident.  Our clue something is amiss?  Roadkill zombie deeer.  Sounds goofy but the scene is creepy as hell.

Just as the train's doors begin to close, a woman in an obvious state of distress, dives aboard.  The KTX departs.  A train attendant discovers the woman who by now is convulsing and whose veins have turned blue/black.  Her eyes are cataract white.  So, yeah.  A bad day for her.  The attendant gets her throat ripped out for her trouble and within seconds is a zombie as well.  These are not the slow Romero zombies nor is there much of an incubation period.  That is to say, the pacing is not what you'd call sluggish.  Anyway, mayhem ensues.  Folks bolt from one car to another, closing off infected cars as they go.  It's now we meet the rest of the main characters:  a pregnant woman and her buff husband, two elderly sisters, a high school baseball player and his girlfriend, and an asshole CEO.  As these relationships sort themselves out, the train makes an emergency stop at the next station.  The army is supposed to be there, and they are.  Unfortunately, they're now a camouflaged mass of snarling death.  After many minutes of heart-pounding narrow escapes and the requisite deaths of minor characters, they make it back on the train.  From here, we experience betrayals, sacrifices, and serious sadness.  Eventually, the train must stop due to blocked tracks.  Many nail-biting encounters ensue and the survivors escape on an old diesel locomotive engine.  Who lives?  Who dies?  Do they make it to Busan?  And is Busan overrun or safe?  Ain't telling.

One aspect of Train to Busan that I found particularly groovy was the way the zombies acted.  Not their near-superhuman speed but the freaky way they moved.  It reminds me of how possessed folks move in exorcism horror movies.  Jerky and twisty and not at all normal.  They also had a quality reminiscent of the zombies in World War Z.  Sort of a swarming factor that definitely adds to their already terrifying personality quirks.

The Skinny

Acting:  Uniformly excellent.  The two leads stand especially out.  The CEO is a bit of a ham but it's his douchebag character.
Story:  A zombie virus sweeping a nation certainly isn't new.  Confining the main action to a bullet train, however, is.  So many unexplored nuances make for a thrilling ride.
Direction:  Lean and mean.
Production Values:  Like the majority of Korean films, it looks as if produced by a major Hollywood studio.
Gore/FX:  For a balls-to-the-wall zombie flick, it's surprisingly light on the gross.  Blood, sure, but no viscera or exploding heads.  The dearth of gore is my only real complaint.
Scares:  More edge of your seat tension than straight up jump scares, which is always better.
Ending:  Pathos with a side of hope.
Verdict:  Should you see Train to Busan?  Indeed you should.  It's arguably the best zombie film of 2016.

Rating:  5 out of 5

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