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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
K-Horror Zombie Romp
by Frank Wilkins

So, you think you have  it bad with mask mandates, social distancing, and quarantine-in-place orders? Thatís nothing compared to what Joon-Woo (Ah-In Yoo) is going through in the new movie called #Alive that is making its American debut on Netflix.

The film first stormed South Korean theaters back in June of this year while the rest of the world was hunkering down in their homes and struggling to stay at least six feet away from others lest they contract the airborne Corona virus. Joon-Wooís struggles are much more immediate and certainly a lot more deadly as he awakens one morning to the announcement that his city has been invaded by hordes of flesh-eating zombies. Naturally, heís home alone with his parents having taken a short trip before he awakened. A quick peek over the balcony reveals ambling hordes of creaking, moaning, zombies chasing down Seoul citizens and feasting on their flesh.

With nowhere else to go, Joon-Woo hunkers down in his familyís apartment, reads the note left behind by his parents, and attempts to stay informed with brief TV and radio announcements, as spotty as they are. Between video games, live streaming, and social media posts, he assesses his food and water situation and upon the realization of his dire circumstance, contemplates his next move. But in a lockdown, there is no next move, right?

Soon thereafter, the electricity and water are cut and the internet goes down. Thatís when Joon-Woo notices a young female resident in the flat across from his. Itís too far for the pair to speak to one another, but being the tech-savvy millennials they are, itís not long before theyíve come up with a system of communicating via binoculars, cell phone and iPad screens, flying drones, and a rope that spans the courtyard between their two apartments.

Itís a crude and rudimentary system, especially when considering how hooked on instant gratification millennials tend to be, but Joon-Woo learns that the girlís name is Kim Yoo-Bin (Shin-Hye Park) and the two eventually form a fledgling relationship carried on via walkie-talkies and hand signals. This is a nice sophisticated touch from director Il Cho and co-screenwriter Matt Naylor who use these tender moments as a much-appreciated respite from the carnage taking place outside.

Speaking of carnage: the make-up and prosthetics for the zombies are actually quite impressive and do a lot to overcome some of the shortcuts the filmmakers had to take for budgetary reasons. Though Il Cho and Naylor never quite manage to present anything particularly original or innovative, the creativity in their use of practical effects as well as some fairly impressive set pieces more than make up for any shortcomings.

The flesh-eaters feature rotting skin, distorted limbs, and darkened eyes that leak blood. Though not something new, unlike most disarticulated zombies who amble about at a snailís pace, these fiends run, jump, and otherwise maintain some of their living memories such as the ability to open doors, use elevators, and search out their next meal. Some sequences that feature the humans turning into zombies with stop-motion-like choppiness and limbs that bend and break are actually quite effective at ramping up the spookiness.

Though South Korean actors Ah-In Yoo and Shin-Hye Park carry the bulk of the film quite ably in what turns out to be largely a two-person affair, the pair of actors arenít given enough to really provide a strong emotional impact. A tender scene that features the two making Ramen via FaceTime in their respective flats is about as close as it gets to a touching moment. And while we get some fairly exciting action pieces, Joon-Woo and Kim Yoo-Bin arenít out to kill as many zombies as they can. Their characters are simply trying to get through it all with survival becoming a motivating tenet of their struggle and hope a major theme of the film.

Korean horror (call it K-Horror if you are cool) has many much better offerings to take a bite out of our insatiably morbid tastes, but #Alive is a fun little 98-minute romp through a dangerous minefield of tried and true zombie tropes. Though we donít get much in the way of innovative twists or turns, the impact of the storyís study of isolation and the willpower to survive as it relates to todayís COVID-challenged world canít be denied. Plus, it is now showing on Netflix. So, take that mask off, settle in with your quarantine companions, and discover how bad a shelter-in-place order could really get.

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