Set primarily in an apartment complex, Netflix film ‘#Alive’ is a contained zombie apocalypse movie about a live video game streamer who is trapped in his home unit as a sudden zombie outbreak unfurls right underneath his window from his fourth floor pad. His family has left to go to the grocery, he is all alone, there’s no signal, and scenes of death and destruction are happening right in plain view.
As zombie infestation movies go, ‘#Alive’ doesn’t problematize the zombies too much. There’s no preface to discuss their origins nor symbolic reference to the infected. The zombies are narrative obstacle, really, and the story rests solely on Oh Jun-u (played by Yoo Ah-in), whose last message from his father on voice mail is “you must survive.” And so he must, against all odds.
The first thirty minutes sets the foundation of this confined world: Oh Jun-u’s apartment complex and all that he can see from his window. There are infected walking the corridors, and while they are rabid, deadly, and mindless, they still retain some remnants of their old lives and habits. So, yes, they can open doors and such.
But what is a live streaming video game player going to do when he is stuck in an apartment complex filled with infected, cannibalistic zombies? His food is running low (remember, his family went out to the grocery) and, there’s no signal, and later on the water is cut. What can he do?
What director Il-Cho (Cho Il-hyung) supplants instead of an allegory is how the technological toys and gadgets of the modern world can answer some of these difficult situations. Jun-u uses drones and various phone apps to find a solution to his challenges but soon discovers that as visually appealing it is to have a drone fly over the infected to try and to communicate with anybody, they are of no use against a mindless horde.
The most interesting juxtaposition of these images is when the film’s second act hits and we realise there’s another survivor in the apartment complex, a mysterious girl played by Park Shin-hye. It is the bridge between technology and the most basic of communication skills (hand signals and charades) that becomes paramount.
‘#Alive’ doesn’t do much for the zombie outbreak movie but becomes more of an exploration of the psychological effects of being forcibly trapped by circumstance between a rock and a hard place. If he goes out, Jun-u must face the infected horde. But if he stays, he may die of starvation or thirst. The loneliness and the hopelessness of the situation is what is front and center in this film. And I’m sure this film was made before the pandemic even hit but it couldn’t have come at a time where its message is most resonant.
It is about the will to survive despite unimaginable opposition.
What it does have is some really good action scenes and when Jun-u does exit his apartment to look for supplies (“farming” he calls it, much like in his games), the camera heightens the thrill and suspense by coming in really close to Yoo Ah-in that your view is restricted, creating additional dread. The fight choreography is brutal and the camera is unafraid to get really close to really capture the drama of the moment. With the music and impeccable production design, it makes for a thrilling spectacle that is hard not to enjoy.
And, on a final note, it’s interesting how the apartment complex setting posits the question of privilege and economic safety. The film, at the end, contextualises the infection rate amongst the apartment complexes so I won’t go there, but it brings up questions like, what would it have been like at ground level? While Jun-u is trapped in his unit, he is safe with all his toys and gadgets. What about everybody else?
‘#Alive’ doesn’t carry the same emotional core that you’ll find in a similar film like ‘Train to Busan’ but it has its own charm and its own personal touch to the genre that makes it fun, albeit not completely groundbreaking.
Netflix film #ALIVE launches on September 8, 2020.