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Review: #Alive (2020)

#Alive (2020)

Directed by: Il Cho

Premise: Set in South Korea, a young man (Yoo Ah-in) is confined to his apartment during a zombie apocalypse. He befriends a woman (Park Shin-hye) living in the apartment complex across the street and they assist each other at a distance.

What Works: Many films in the zombie genre are siege movies with survivors barricaded inside of a sanctuary and waiting for rescue. #Alive works within that format but the filmmakers find ways to enliven the material. The story centers on Joon-woo, a gamer who becomes trapped inside his apartment during a zombie apocalypse. He’s a young bachelor and even in normal times much of his social interaction comes through screens. That’s the irony of his predicament; when human-to-human interaction suddenly becomes impossible, Joon-woo realizes how much he misses it. At the edge of desperation, Joon-woo discovers Yoo-bin, a young woman living across the street, and the two of them begin communicating with signs and hand signals and later with radios. The performances by Yoo Ah-in and Park Shin-hye are quite good. At first Joon-woo comes across as an adorable dork while Yoo-bin is the sharp-witted survivor but the actors allow for nuance. Prior to connecting, these characters live in isolation without hope. Their loneliness is palatable and when Joon-woo and Yoo-bin connect we get a sense of their desperate need not only to survive but also to have meaningful lives. It’s in this respect that the filmmakers of #Alive distinguish their movie from a lot of other zombie pictures. These movies are about many things but one consistent theme is personhood and the dehumanizing forces of contemporary life. #Alive is about the importance of social interaction and the limitations of digital connections to satisfy that need. As Joon-woo and Yoo-bin establish a friendship they also strengthen their reason to survive because they have something to strive for beyond moment-to-moment survival. That focus on isolation and connection gives #Alive a vivid emotional core and the movie has arrived at an ideal time; this is the perfect film for a pandemic.

What Doesn’t: The story of #Alive remains within the conventions of zombie films and it relies on a few coincidences in which characters are saved by a last minute intervention. The film also undermines an important part of its premise; Joon-woo and Yoo-bin are separated by a street between their apartment buildings that is infested by a crowd of zombies. This obstacle keeps them apart but when it comes time to traverse that distance it’s crossed a little too easily.

DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: #Alive delivers many of the classic scenarios we expect from a zombie film but its emphasis on the relationship between the central characters distinguishes it from similar movies. In a genre that is so often pessimistic, #Alive offers a hopeful vision of humanity in a crisis.

Episode: #820 (October 4, 2020)