Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!
In the book version of World War Z (not the vastly inferior film that has virtually nothing to do with the book), there is a section about a young survivor in Japan. The story he tells is one of living virtually his entire life online and getting through the first few days of the zombie apocalypse looking for information and dealing with it more or less theoretically, not realizing that what was happening in the online space was actually happening in the real world. Eventually, he comes to the realization of what is going on and is forced to find his way out of his apartment building. In a lot of ways, #Alive (or #Saraitda), is a long version of that story, albeit Korean instead of Japanese.
#Alive is survival/zombie horror stripped down to its most basic. A young man named Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in) is alone in the family apartment; his parents and younger sister are out of town. Joon-woo’s mother has left him some money to go grocery shopping, but before he gets much of a chance to do so (since he spends time playing online games instead), the zombie apocalypse happens. We don’t get an explanation for this. One of the people he games with says that something is going on, and shortly thereafter, Joon-woo sees zombie attacks happening outside of his building. A neighbor (Lee Hyun-wook) fights his way into the apartment, but has been bitten and has turned, and a short battle ensues to get him out of the apartment.
Essentially, the first act of the film is dealing with Joon-woo’s situation, at least for a couple of weeks. There’s not much food in the apartment and soon enough the water is shut off. When he gets a message that indicates that his family has been overrun by the zombies, Joon-woo decides to kill himself. At the last moment, a young woman named Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye) signals him with a laser pointer. The two bond over the next few days and, thanks to the use of Joon-woo’s drone, set up a rope and pulley system to exchange supplies. Scavenging in a neighbor’s apartment turns up walkie-talkies, and soon the two can talk to each other.
Eventually, though, the two of them need to find a way to escape the infected apartment complex. Joon-woo, while it’s never really described in detail, is clearly a Twitch gamer and spends some time posting updates on social media about his plight. We get a good battle as Yoo-bin fights her way to Joon-woo’s building and the pair go up to the top floor, only to encounter more problems there. I won’t spoil the third act.
If #Alive has a failing…and it does…it’s that there’s not really anything new here. It does a lot of things right. It paces itself well, and in the sense that the first part of the film deals with Joon-woo’s slowly depleting supply of food and water, it’s something that at least initially feels different. Once Yoo-bin is added into the mix (and don’t get me wrong—she’s a great character), all of this goes away. The driving impetus for Joon-woo to do anything changes from his basic survival. In fact, he does still eventually have to go scavenging from apartment to apartment, which he would have had to do without Yoo-bin. I suppose in a sense that her presence gives him a reason to do so. He’s willing to kill himself earlier, and only goes scavenging to bond with Yoo-bin, and probably to impress her, since she is clearly more capable than he is.
The third act is standard as well, although it’s well done. We’re not going to have any surprises here when the pair goes to the top floor of the apartment building. Again, it’s not bad; it’s just something that you’ve definitely seen before in plenty of zombie movies in the past.
I suppose in that sense, what I would really like here is to have a zombie movie that has a little bit more self-awareness. What I mean specifically is that I would like to see a zombie movie take place in a world where the people have seen a zombie movie, or at least where they exist (and yes, I know that has happened). Our characters make some really rookie mistakes. Joon-woo goes scavenging essentially unarmed. When he does break into a neighboring apartment, he doesn’t bolt the door behind him, which means what is going to happen is inevitable. All of the beats here are predictable, and while the action moments are frenetic, they’re kind of what we expect, too.
I do like the overall look of things. If #Alive does anything really well it’s the immediate squalor that happens when the world goes to hell. Apartment building hallways are trashed and blood-soaked, as they should be. The zombies themselves are feral looking. These aren’t the blue-hued Romero zombies, but undead versions of the infected from 28 Days Later. While the film itself is predictable, the zombies are horrific, which is a huge bonus.
I also like the characters. Joon-woo is inept in a completely believable way. Yoo-bin is competent in a completely believable way. Neither of these characters is a caricature, and both of them are likeable, something that is always a huge benefit in a survival horror film.
Is #Alive great? No. There’s nothing really new here after the first act, and this was a chance to do something potentially different in the genre. But it’s well made and entertaining, and I can’t really ask for more than that from a standard zombie movie.
Why to watch #Alive: It’s smart enough to give us limited characters so that we’ll end up caring about them.
Why not to watch: Aside from the opening moments, there’s not a lot here you haven’t seen.