Woohoo! A zombie movie I really liked. These are rare. This one is frightening, tense, and creepy. There’s a lot to like here even if the movie does get to be a little too nihilistic for my taste.
It’s a classic set up. A workaholic father, played by Gong Yoo, takes his neglected daughter, played by Kin Su-an on a train to Busan to visit his ex wife. It’s the first amount of time he’s spent with his daughter in who knows how long. Once not he train, a zombie outbreak occurs that leaves most of the train flesh eating, braindead, monsters. They must survive the train to what is hopefully a safe zone in Busan.
I’ve never found zombies scary. I think they’re a pretty nasty and silly horror villain. They have no goals and no ability to plan an attack or reason. They just lumber around. The only zombies I’ve really liked have been in George Romero’s original zombie movies. They were an unseen terror that lurked outside in Night of the Living Dead. They were an ever present commentary on our society in Dawn of the Dead. They were an external force that drove our survivors to their worst instincts in Day of the Dead. Every other rendition has been a pale shadow of Romero’s original films.
In this version they are a fast moving horde that taps into the fear of crowds. The train is full of zombies. The characters are confined and trapped inside with them. The train is their only hope for safety, yet it is full of danger. This is played up to great effect in a sequence where Su-an is trapped in a bathroom in one car, and her father has to pass through three train cars full of zombies to get to her.
The other thing I really appreciated about these zombies is that a bump on the head doesn’t kill them. In most versions, a crack on there noggin kills them instantly. It turns into a game of target practice as people with guns take turns shooting zombies in the head. It gets boring for me. I don’t care to see people who have never held a gun in their lives suddenly making headshots at twenty yards. It’s unbelievable and repetitive. This movie doesn’t do that. They beat the zombies over the head with baseball bats, yet they keep coming. This overwhelming force of undead is truly frightening. They will never stop. They will keep attacking. You can only push them out of the way and hope you can get away before they launch themselves at you again. They’re a metaphor for death and the inescapable nature of death. We can push it back, but it will keep coming for us.
This metaphor does lead to a sense of nihilism. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is going to die anyway. Human beings are evil. The number of characters who screw each other over for a chance to survive is truly depressing. Watching these people behave horribly and betray one another is just wearying. The bad survive and the good get eaten. It’s depressing. I’ve always found zombie stories depressing. As we’ve seen in the past year or so, people do engage in violence and evil when pushed by stress. But we’ve also seen exceptional kindness and support int he face a global catastrophe. Watching people during Covid justify their selfishness and cruelty reminded me of the backstabbers in Train to Busan. There’s a lot of evil, selfishness, and cruelty in the world. But there can also be hope. Zombie movies rarely show the hopeful community that lives and works together for the betterment of all. Maybe it’s a fantasy that a world in a zombie apocalypse would behave decently, but it’s a fantasy I’d like to have.
All that said, this is a depressing, but very powerful thriller. It’s a good zombie movie although watching an apocalypse feels redundant in today’s world. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
It’s my cup of tea. A-