Mike’s Review: Alive (2020)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Just when you thought the zombie genre had plumb run out of ideas along comes a pretty interesting and pretty inventive take on on a concept that’s…uh…dying. 

Directed by Cho Il-hyun.

By now you’ve seen it all — shark zombies, zombies wielding guns, soccer playing zombies, beaver zombies, babies as zombies, and even zombie strippers. Well, maybe you haven’t seen it all, but trust us, these all exist and they exist in very peculiar and uneven universes. It was really refreshing to see the latest zombie offering by South Korean director Cho Il-hyun.

#Alive follows in the literal footsteps of the social commentary as allegory for zombie pandemic brought to us by the late-great George Romero. Romero initially employed zombies as a dual metaphor for race relations and the crumbling Viet Nam war — and later with conspicuous consumption — it was clear from his last offerings that he wanted to take a cut at the zombie through the lens of technology. He tried, but sadly failed. Whereas director Cho Il-hyun tried, succeeds, and excels! 

The film’s super simple ruminations on technology, loneliness, and our disconnected world view follows Oh Joon-woo (Ah-In Yoo) and his video game-having ways. Oh Joon-woo lives in a massive apartment complex and while he’s surrounded by humanity he retreats to days and nights filled with Fortnite and crappy ramen. Largely unaware that his family has left the apartment for the day, Oh Joon-woo wakes up to the very beginnings of a hyper-violent zombie outbreak. From there, director Cho Il-hyun could have taken the 28 Days Later approach and followed Oh Joon-woo on a hero’s journey through the ravaged streets of Seoul. Instead, we’re forced to uncomfortably look inward at how disconnected and inchoate Oh Joon-woo’s modern conveniences have co-opted him. 

Much like the 2004 reboot of Dawn of the Dead, once #Alive gets going, it’s ALL gas and NO brakes. However, the action is all external to Oh Joon-woo’s apartment. He’s got a TV, he’s got the internet, he’s got non-stop ramen commercials, but he’s missing the quintessential human connection. It’s clear he can’t leave and he’s slowly forced to deal with the nagging existential question — what if he’s all there really is?

Scary DVDs! Woo!
Oh Joon-woo contemplates his last Fortnite airdrop.

Oh Joon-woo dances, cries, blows through his food and water, and eventually starts hitting his old man’s liquor cabinet. Much in the same lonely and uncaring offerings from the world wide web, Oh Joon-woo is on a solo mission. The solitary nature of his quest is his undoing and he decides that suicide is the only option forward, but not before errant laser pointer beam appears in his apartment.  From the apartment complex across the way he’s greeted by a young woman, Yoo-bin (Park Shin-Hye). 

This simple human contact frees him from his doldrums and the two begin to plot their escape. A little climbing rope, a drone, and an old timey pulley system are all Yoo-bin and Oh Joon-woo need to create the human connection that they’ve been longing for throughout the outbreak. The last quarter of the film does begin to lose its way — courtesy of a ham-fisted Walking Dead-like story line — but the action along the way is fun and inventive. 

#Alive really is that film that George Romero really wanted to make. It was within his reach, but director Cho Il-hyun would be the one to bring it across the finish line.  If your preference is George Romero zombies, be forewarned, these are not them. Think Train to Busan only a little more clumsy. 

#Alive is likely Rated R and currently streaming on Netflix.

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