By Payton Schleh (Portland, Oregon)
I am not the type of person who watches, or typically enjoys, the superfluous carnage and hyper-romanticized events of the typical zombie apocalypse film. Personally, I find that they tend to stretch reality a little too far and focus more of their budget on producing the largest scale disaster than creating a compelling story. That was until the Netflix original film, #Alive, came across my feed.
It was the 225th day of endless quarantine and isolation since the COVID-19 disease was declared a global pandemic. I was mindlessly scrolling through the mass collection of media that Netflix has to offer when I saw a film called #Alive. In light of the current global pandemic, I must admit that the title did make me chuckle. Perhaps I have become jaded to the mask-wearing, social distancing reality we live in, but the title connected with the part of me that has grown worn and haggard from the daily headlines touting disease, death, and ruin. So there I sat, contemplating whether I should give this South Korean zombie film a shot, just going through my day #Alive.
Well, as we are both at this point in the review, I think it is safe to say that I did watch the film and I was pleasantly surprised. The premise of the film is not all too dissimilar from the ongoing events of daily life. Unexpectedly, a contagion is released that rapidly spreads across the city and forces people to lock themselves away if they want to survive. The main character, Oh Joon-woo, is locked alone in his family’s apartment with few supplies and the ambience of the ensuing infected to keep him company. Doesn’t seem like a terribly unfamiliar concept does it? Unlike the few zombie films I have seen in the past, #Alive, does not rely on ruined cities or a large resistance group to keep the story intriguing. Rather, it highlights the power of the desire to survive and focuses on Joon-woo as he battles the struggles of isolation and a descent into hopelessness.
The humorous moments in the film were a welcome reprieve compared to the many horror dramas that leave no room for humanity. Joon-woo is by no means a survival expert and there were a number of times throughout the film where I was in awe how this gamer had managed to stay alive so long. This young 20-something who had no means of defense or sustenance, only a strong desire to find any type of connection, was somehow surviving alone in his family’s small third floor apartment as zombies ruled the halls outside. At no point throughout the film did I feel as though Joon-woo’s character had been compromised for the sake of creating a high-octane thriller. Joon-woo did not turn into some militant figure hell-bent on crushing zombie skulls nor did he become an expert stealth survivalist. He was human through and through and the aloofness of his character was not only relatable, but intensified the desire to see him succeed.
What the film lacked in action, it made up for in tension. There was no time wasted introducing the infection to the world, a no-nonsense feature I think many similar genre films can take note of. The stakes were quickly realized and it became clear that this was not going to be your typical zombie film. By no means is this film a visual treat or a work of art but, much like the basic need to survive, it plays off of the constraints posed by the story. This is a film simply about staying alive and, contrary to popular belief, that does not require taking on a hoard of a hundred zombies single handedly. #Alive is a film that stays grounded in a sense of reality and created characters that were real and relatable. I don’t know about you, but if my apartment building became overrun with zombies, I would probably lock myself inside to wait it out and hope they don’t find me too.
#Alive is a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse genre. Even as someone who does not usually find these types of movies appealing, I found myself attached to the characters and genuinely interested in what was going to happen next. I appreciated the bare bones approach the creators took to the film as I think it helped make it more enjoyable for a wider audience. I would not say #Alive is one of the greatest films I have ever seen, but for a simple movie night I found it rather entertaining and easy to watch. It had moments of action, suspense, and intrigue littered throughout, but most of all it stayed true to the simplistic nature of its core value, the need to survive.