WatchALTER’s review published on Letterboxd:
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Someone once said to us that TRAIN TO BUSAN took the idea of SNAKES ON A PLANE and said “okay now, but what if ‘zombies on a train.”’ They’re not wrong. But while we love the campy, “I’ve had it with these motherf***ing snakes on this motherf***ing plane” of SNAKES ON A PLANE, TRAIN TO BUSAN is a decidedly more emotional film about the things humans are willing to do to save themselves or help others in a traumatic, zombie-filled event. Yet it’s also a helluva lot of fun.
For those who like the idea of Bong Joon-ho’s SNOWPIERCER (everyone trapped on a single bullet train with some class struggle commentary) mixed with the undying (and undead) urgency of Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, then TRAIN TO BUSAN is exactly the right film for you. You can watch it currently on Netflix.
ALTER shorts to check out if you liked TRAIN TO BUSAN:
A Father’s Day: youtu.be/KzdWLiaY7yo
Boy’s Club: youtu.be/PiQ9ksr8fFM
We Together: youtu.be/j97eODbUCg8
For our Zombie Film Playlist: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtmNpo8LSL8ZUANvP8S54oAkURYsLFr9V
Nose Nose Nose Eyes: youtu.be/hO5ZzZF3-M0
Films to check out if you liked TRAIN TO BUSAN:
Snowpiercer - on Netflix
Cargo - on Netflix
Little Monsters - on Hulu
Anna and the Apocalypse - on Hulu
Eat Brains Love - www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtmNpo8LSL8a_G-7ZfLYWF9nXhJCJ-wm5
If you want to check out more of our thoughts, please read on below:
Much like the foes in the films themselves, the zombie genre is undying. Every few years, there’s a new zombie film or series that comes out that captures the national or international consciousness. Starting with George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in the 60s and DAWN OF THE DEAD in the 70s, these films became cultural landmarks for horror, but also launched the incredible popularity of what would become the most well-known subgenre in horror. Both films are extremely tense and terrifying in their own right, they also set precedents for embedding social commentary about how not-that-far-off humanity might be from their undead brethren. Are humans ultimately worse than the zombies in times of pandemics and zombie outbreaks?
These themes carried onto the 80s with films like Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR and more Romero classics until present day. There’s been ground-breaking films in the genre along the way too, such as the terrifying-as-sh*t introduction of the sprinting zombies in Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER and the hilarious, material-society commentary of Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD. In fact, it seems like every five years (if not sooner) there’s a fun or funny or frightening reimagining of the genre. 2016 gave us one that is all three in Yeon Sang-ho’s hugely popular TRAIN TO BUSAN.
What’s so vital about the zombie genre is that while it is one of the most commonly told subgenres — to the point that most people know all the beats of these films even without having seen them — there’s an ability to mine real emotional depth of the situations. Zombie films don’t need any crazy story innovations or massive twists or even over-explanations about why there are zombies in the first place. Instead, they, at their most basic level, require characters that the audience will root for and care about in the face of constant death, literally and figuratively.
This is where TRAIN TO BUSAN excels. Our lead character, Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), starts off as a very unlikeable, very wealthy, semi-absentee father to his pure hearted young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). Over the course of the film, and as the threat of his daughter falling prey to the undead’s grasp increases, he becomes a heroic figure doing whatever he can to care for her. Then there’s the bad ass father-to-be Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his very pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi) - both of which go to represent the working class and are stalwarts for goodness among the chaos. Then lastly, there’s the self-centered COO Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung) - who is the clear stand in for when the 1% prioritizes themselves over the greater good. However, there’s another good 15 to 20 characters the audience will find themselves rooting for or against in TRAIN TO BUSAN
Even if you were to watch the film on a purely visceral level though, the film more than succeeds. The zombies contort and snarl and bite anything they lay their teeth into. The humans, while not only competing with themselves to survive, have to figure out how to move from claustrophobic train cabin to claustrophobic train cabin until the group of survivors are back together. This means there’s a lot of baseball bats to the zombie-dome, or figuring out if there’s ways to trick zombies with sound so they won’t notice some sneaking people.
What makes TRAIN TO BUSAN such an instant classic in the genre though, is its ability to rip your heart out. The film pulls no punches when it comes to realizing that if a zombie apocalypse would break out, that many people - a lot of heroic and good people - would ultimately meet their end. In its last 45 minutes, the film becomes an emotional crescendo of sacrifice and loss, and while we won’t spoil what happens to whom, we will say a lot of characters the film so purposefully makes us care about are given tragic endings.
The zombie genre may be overdone to many, but TRAIN TO BUSAN proves with the best of the genre that a beating heart inside of the undead package can go a long way.