Review: ‘Peninsula’ is a Kinetic, Action-Heavy Zombie Epic
By Daniel Rester
The South Korean film Train to Busan shook up the horror genre when it was released in 2016. With its emotional core and claustrophobic moving train setting, it brought a fresh angle to the zombie subgenre. Some even claim it to be the best zombie film of the 2010s and one of the greatest zombie films of all time. I agree with that.
Now comes the long-awaited sequel, Peninsula. Director Yeon Sang-ho returns to helm, taking the story in a different direction. Peninsula operates as a standalone sequel, taking place four years after the first film and featuring all new characters.
This time we follow a Marine named Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won, a solid lead). He struggles with his past, which involved leaving behind a family on the side of a road during the outbreak and failing to save his sister and nephew from zombies. Jung-seok teams up with his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) and others from Hong Kong in order to return to the quarantined Incheon. Why? Because there is a big truck full of money just waiting to be taken.
Yeon seemed to think going bigger would be better for his sequel. He greatly expands the scope. Jung-seok gets two quests of redemption while he is also surrounded by many characters. There’s the heist main plot, extensive car action similar to the Fast and the Furious franchise, a subplot involving a captain and his dangerous soldiers, another subplot involving a grandfather, a fighting ring where people must survive zombies, and more.
Peninsula doesn’t capture the lightning in a bottle the way Train to Busan did. That said, it’s still a solid sequel, if too big for its own good. The acting is strong and the action is staged with plenty of energy and features superior cinematography. The zombies remain creepy too, this time getting a characteristic where they can’t see very well at night.
Setting a heist plot in a zombie apocalypse is an interesting idea. Zack Snyder, in fact, is doing the same thing with a Las Vegas setting for his upcoming Army of the Dead. Only the first half or so of Peninsula sticks to that framework though. After that the money just becomes a McGuffin and the plot goes in multiple directions before coming back around for the climax. The zombies also just become background noise for a while as we focus on the different sets of characters.
I admire Yeon for wanting to do something different for his sequel and not just copy the first film. He still directs with a sure hand, but the script he works with this time is much more familiar and scattered than the first film. The action is still very thrilling though despite some of the car chases looking too CGI-heavy. Yeon also injects emotion into the material, though the climax gets a bit too sentimental and manipulative (swelling music, a sunrise, slow motion, etc.).
Though I have lots of nitpicks with Peninsula, I still enjoyed it. The craftsmanship is impressive and there are some shocking moments. Gang Dong-won helps hold it together with his commanding performance as well. It’s an action-heavy zombie epic that is easy to digest if you’re a horror fan. Just don’t expect the masterpiece that is Train to Busan.
My Grade: 7.3/10 (letter grade equivalent: B)
MPA Rating: NR
Running Time: 1h 56min
USA Release Date: August 21st, 2020