Train to Busan

Train to Busan ★★★★

Do not take this train in my opinion because it is full of zombies.

Someone can probably write a piece on how 28 DAYS LATER has supplanted Romero's films as the ur-text for zombie films; one can draw lineage straight from that through WORLD WAR Z (which this is probably closest to in terms of emphasis on mass zombie spectacle over individualizing zombies or badass Savini gore shots) to this. The major difference, of course, is that WWZ is basically incoherent storywise, while this is nicely pared down in focus. (The ending is arguably a homage to Romero, but also kind of the ending that you would probably come up with if you had the scenario and hadn't seen any Romero.)

It's also, rather unexpectedly, a bonafide tearjerker - horror movies certainly have their moments where they play on emotions, but this one seems to be just as much, if not more, concerned about the emotional throughlines. It's here that some viewers will check out, and I was on the fence, particularly given a mix of overly broad and somewhat vacant performances; thankfully, in addition to not being as put off by that as much as some, the young Kim Soo-Ahn saves it by nailing her performance and providing the emotional center of the film.

Lest I be putting off people by implying it's too soft, well, it's not. While more startling than gory, it has more than its share of frights and nail-biting setpieces. A midfilm arrival at a train station (Daejung? can't find the name right now) is a relentless ostinato of tension and the high point of the film, but there's plenty more where that came from. Yeon Sang-Ho (whose previous films I have missed) might not be quite as flashy of a stylist as Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook, Kim Jee-Woon, or Na Hong-Jin, but he gets the job done effectively and chooses to elicit his horror from mundanity, in some ways a tougher job. Toughest of all, he made a zombie film in 2016 I actually enjoyed! (Insert #hackstamp line here about breathing life into the undead.)

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