#Alive — aka #Saraitda — is a gripping, small-scale zombie flick from South Korea. It doesn’t have the lengthy car chases or big shootouts of the recent South Korean zombie epic Peninsula. But it doesn’t need them. It gets by with its one main setting and two main characters thanks to smart filmmaking and excellent performances.
Ah-In Yoo, who was so brilliant in Burning (2018), takes the lead in #Alive. He plays Joon-woo, a young man who still lives with his parents and spends a lot of his time playing video games and gaining followers on social media platforms. One day, while he is home alone, Joon-woo notices that something crazy is happening outside of his apartment complex. From his balcony, he realizes that a zombie apocalypse has started.
Joon-woo shelters in place while violence breaks out all around his neighborhood. The days pass and his food supply gets scarce. He fights to survive while also making friends — from a distance — with a woman who lives across the courtyard in another apartment building.
Director Il Cho does a lot with a little with #Alive, following in the footsteps of zombie films like REC (2007) and The Night Eats the World (2018). He keeps the majority of the focus on Joon-woo, who grows as a character as he faces the dire circumstances. Despite the film taking place almost entirely in a non-colorful apartment block, Cho also manages to creatively use the environment so that it never feels stale. Varied things like door traps and a camera drone come into play, while the rapid pace helps as well.
The heartfelt performances by Yoo and Shin-Hye Park (as the neighbor) almost make you forget you’re watching a zombie film at times. Their conversations (by typing on tablets, sending notes with the drone, etc.) have a real human touch. A lot of the acting must be done just through eye reactions, and Yoo and Park pull it off expertly. One particular scene where Joon-woo struggles to get a phone connection to hear a voicemail is especially effective. Yoo sells the emotion of the scene perfectly and the outcome sits in your throat.
The zombies in #Alive are ferocious, fashioned in the popular 28 Days Later (2002) way. Seeing a lazy guy not take the threat very seriously at first is amusing. For example, Joon-woo gets bored in his apartment quickly and goes back to playing video games. But the zombies aren’t just tossed to the side for jokes. There are a few white-nuckle scenes where the beasts aggressively try to devour Joon-woo and others. The makeup work on them is outstanding and they feel like real zombies, attacking on an individual level and not just tripping over each other in a crowded CGI mess. The climax, however, does disappointingly go in such a direction.
#Alive isn’t a major game-changer in the zombie subgenre, but it has likable characters, scary zombies, and a use of space that is interesting. It also has a fresh angle in showing how a gamer would use electronic tools and social media posts to help him survive. Cho’s film is a #winner in the horror genre.
My Grade: 7.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: B)
Running Time: 1h 38min