Alive movie review: The new Korean zombie thriller, out on Netflix, works as a scary metaphor for the coronavirus pandemic.
For a film that seems to exist only because someone thought slapping a zombie mod onto Home Alone would be a good idea, #Alive is a fairly inventive apocalyptic thriller that is given added heft because of the raging pandemic.
Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) wakes up one morning to find that his parents have already gone to work, leaving behind instructions for him — a sloppy teen gamer — on how to take care of himself while they're out. Considering the nature of some of the instructions — "buy groceries" — Joon-woo seems like the sort of guy who'd barely be able to last a day without his mom making a meal for him. But little does he know that in a matter of minutes, his life is going to be only about learning to take care of himself.
Watch the #Alive trailer here
He turns on the TV and is met with some concerning news. The people of Seoul seem to have been consumed by rage. Their eyes are bleeding, and they're attacking people. Some of them, the newsreader whispers, appear to have developed cannibalistic urges. As mass hysteria erupts outside his apartment, Joon-woo's brain connects the dots: zombies.
What unfolds is a film that'll make you relive horror of the nightmarish coronavirus lockdown. As Joon-woo fortifies his apartment, convinced that staying at home is the safest bet, the virus consumes the populace at a frightening rate outside. Soon, the internet services shut down and the food runs out. Joon-woo leaves no stone unturned in his efforts to survive — he flies a drone around his apartment complex to survey the area, sends out SOS messages on Twitter, and even tries rationing — but just when he's about to give up, help comes to him.
It's a neighbour, Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye), who's been isolating in her own home across the yard, and like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, has been spying on Joon-woo for days, it seems. There's an instant connection.
Do you remember that sweet story of how a couple of New Yorkers formed a virtual connection while quarantining at their homes at the peak of the pandemic? The guy sent the girl his number via drone, and before they knew it, they were having a romantic dinner on their respective rooftops, connected by FaceTime. That's sort of what happens between Joon-woo and Yoo-bin in #Alive. As it turns out, the human meat that the zombies feast on isn't the only tender thing in the movie.
But while he patiently developes the love story, director Cho Il-hyung doesn't skimp on the zombie action. The prosthetics are consistently well-done, the set-pieces are well executed, and even though George A Romero would disapprove of the zombies' lightning reflexes, Max Brooks would be proud of the protagonists' ingenuity.
#Alive, in its third act, even has time for moments of unexpected gravitas. While you were absorbed by Joon-woo and Yoo-bin's drama, the movie suggests, equally moving stories were unfolding inside other apartments. It's like that brief moment of realisation in Cloverfield — a film shot in the found footage format — where the protagonist's camera captures another person documenting the monster attack just like him. Director Matt Reeves wondered if a sequel could be made from that person's perspective. A similar opportunity is available to Il-hyung here. The pandemic isn't going anywhere, nor is the audience's appetite for solid zombie cinema.