Cinematic Releases: Railroad of the Undead: Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) (2016) - Reviewed

I'm sure by now that everyone is sick and tired of watching zombie flicks, and to be honest, the genre has been lackluster as of late. However, South Korea has been tearing up the movie game lately so I gave their newest zombie offering, Train to Busan a chance. I'm not the only one who wanted to see it, in its own country the film broke records for audience attendance and was a blockbuster hit in other Asian countries as well. Of course, a film isn't judged by how much money it makes, but by the quality of its offerings. Train to Busan manages to stick out in a sea of genre films, but still retains a great human story in its core.

A divorced fund manager named Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) plans a trip to take his small daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) to see her mother in the city of Busan. They decide to take a high-speed train to get there, but unfortunately for them, an infected passenger manages to make her way onboard as well. The infection spreads quickly and both father and daughter have to figure out how to survive until the train reaches its final destination. Train to Busan takes its time to introduce the characters in the beginning which is rare for zombie films--that makes the events that much more harrowing to witness for the audience. I enjoyed how they fleshed out several of the side characters as well, giving them some much needed personality.

While I am not a fan of "fast" zombies, they did an excellent job portraying the walking dead in Train to Busan. The way they violently twist and contort their bodies is incredibly unsettling to watch and it gives everything a sense of frantic urgency. Director Yeon Sang-ho used a technique known as "frame-dropping" to give the undead a herky-jerky movement style which is reminiscent of the infected people in 28 Days Later (2002). They also swarm and crawl over each other like ants, gnashing their teeth like wild animals. The close-quarters of the train cars imbues a claustrophobic atmosphere and the way that the humans have to fight their way from car-to-car reminds me a bit of Snowpiercer (2013), ironically another film by a South Korean director.

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The camera work and special effects are well done and this film looks and feels like an expensive blockbuster. It's paced well, though it does fall victim to a few cliché plot twists in the third act. I found the father and daughter relationship to be touching and I have noticed that Korean horror films have a tendency to focus on family connections and emotions more than their western counterparts. Some people might find the conclusion to be melodramatic, but I was swept away by the character's plight. The music compliments the film and is suitably epic to match the action-packed atmosphere.

Even if you are feeling zombie burnout, Train to Busan is a welcome addition to the genre. Its moving depiction of family ties and gruesome action set-peices are a perfect combination for a modern horror film.

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-Michelle Kisner