Once upon a time this would have been a movie I probably would have tried to see in theaters on opening night. There was a point in life where I was a ginormous zombie fan. I loved zombie movies and zombie video games. The first movie that really scared me as a kid was the George Romero classic “Night of the Living Dead”. Zombie culture had a significant place in pop culture and it stayed there for a great many years in recent history. It’s always been a staple. There have been big studio zombie movies and terrible zombie B-movies that look like they were shot over a weekend. From Resident Evil to the Walking Dead, everybody had some relevant way to connect with the phenomenon and enjoy it through the entertainment medium of their choosing. And at one point in my life I was happy to participate in as many as I could because I was such a huge fan of the entire spectrum. Slow zombies. Fast ones. Funny ones in Shaun of the Dead. Terrifying ones in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Heck, even zombie adjacent movies like 28 Days Later and it’s sequel 28 Weeks Later were acceptable when you got right down to it. There was a point in time where zombie stock was definitely at an all time high. And then there wasn’t. At least for me.
I’m not sure when it happened but the bottom kind of fell out of the zombie market for me. I do know why it happened. One of the things that really seemed to permeate the zombie world was a pervasive sense of dread and hopelessness. Rarely do a lot of people make it out alive at the end of a zombie movie as it stands so it’s hard to ever really feel like there’s a “happy ending”. And I know when it comes to horror movies in general there’s not a lot of that in the mix as it stands. There’s usually a handful of survivors in whatever flick you happen to be watching but even that’s not a given. But even beyond the reality that potentially no one makes it out a live is a much greater sense that humanity as a whole suffers. Zombie films are typically not contained to a singular location. The standard seems to be you either get to be there at outbreak and watch as a lucky number of people happen to evade the rapid spread of the undead across the globe as they make a mad dash towards some semblance of survival, or perhaps you’re dropped in the middle of a post apocalyptic world already reeling from a zombie outbreak and you still get to zero in on a pocket of survivors that undoubtedly dwindle down to nothing as some sort of compromise comes to pass and their way of life is changed. Regardless of what the case is, there is typically terror around every turn and the fact that things are so impending creates a real tension for the survivors that is extremely hard to maneuver no matter what the situation is. Because of all these factors, it just got to be that the idea of there being any hope at the end of the movie was moot. Because of that, the idea of rallying around the group in whatever film you’re watching seemed so pointless because you’d just be watching people die horrific deaths one by one with no real chance that things could work out. And even if they could, the overwhelming downfall of society in conjunction with however the outbreak of zombies occurred would prove to be such an insurmountable task that there seemed to be no point in surviving in the first place. So eventually I had to get off the zombie train.
How’s that for a segue? I added this one to the list since it’s been so long since I’ve really watched a zombie movie and people have consistently spoken SO highly of this movie since it came out in 2016. I will say that as an overall movie, the presentation value of this film was well done. In every technical sense of filmmaking, this movie holds up quite well. Visually it’s impressive in every capacity. And much like many other zombie movies, there’s a class struggle narrative that is seemingly executed well also. Initially everyone is on equal footing as the outbreak first begins. It overwhelms everyone and the zombies just sort of pour forward in a similar sense as in World War Z where the CGI undead seem to cascade like some sort of waterfall of bodies. There were a couple of times where the film did suffer from this unrealistic twist. It was short lived and you could probably miss it if you weren’t paying attention. So that keeps it from being a real detriment to the film. But later on in the movie when we’ve been presented with a clear group of “survivors” there is a real struggle between who is and who isn’t worthy of being saved. Its like most zombie movie makers want you to ask yourself how you would behave in a situation like this. Is survival predicated on working together with others for a shared good or is it survival of the fittest? Some of this context is brought on earlier in the film in the narrative the father character takes on. He is even confronted by his daughter at one point for only thinking about himself. And to her point, he does warn her that she needs to only look out for herself at a time like this. But ultimately he changes for the better and becomes a more magnanimous version of himself, working together with certain survivors as they traverse the train cars and try and reunite with others towards the end of the film. It’s shortly after this subgroup comes back together and tries to rejoin the rest of the survivors that we are met again with that harsh reality that others may not be as cooperative. While the threat of “infection” is terrifying, the heartless and cruel motivations of certain survivors may be truly scarier when evaluating what people are capable of in dire circumstances like these. When the smaller group finally busts through and makes it in to the larger group, they are ostracized as unclean purely out of fear and a desire to reject the guilt they feel when confronted by how they attempted to sacrifice others. Ultimately they “quarantine” this other group in the vestibule which ends up being deadly in end as the situation turns and the zombies make their way into the “safe” space and devour most of the survivors. But there’s that one asshole who makes it. There always is. The one guy who flipped out at everyone. The guy who went off the deep end. The guy who didn’t want to open the door to let survivors in and then had to live with it when others let them in. THAT guy. He’s in this movie too. But he gets his in the end.
My two biggest beefs with this movie come late in the game. As it stands in many zombie movies when you get towards the end you start having those “hero” moments that piss you off. The first one comes from Korean actor Don Lee. I’ve come to appreciate him via several of his other vehicles he’s done in Asian cinema. One of his most prominent American roles would be as Gilgamesh in Marvel’s “Eternals” movie. For a Korean actor, he seems to have some bulk and height to him over many other actors, though the main protagonist, Seok-woo played by Gong Yoo seems to be taller still. But Lee has a prowess in Korean films for being a powerhouse with his punching ability. Many times it’s overplayed in the fact that he can punch people across rooms and through walls and such. But he’s once again his fearless fists of fury deal all sorts of damage to the undead when it comes time for the survivors to “fight back”. With his pregnant wife and Seok-woo’s daughter trapped several cars ahead of them on the train, they must make their way through zombie infested rail cars to reunite. It’s only at the last minute while attempting to hold the door closed from a hoard of infected that his hand gets bitten and his fate is sealed. I hate this. I hate it so much. In one of his final sentient breaths he tells his wife what they should name their child. It’s supposed to be an emotional send off in the most dramatic sense as he makes this sacrifice for the group to survive. But it’s stupid. I don’t want him to die. I want him to be the dad he’s supposed to be. I want him to keep fighting on and make it out alive. The fact that he doesn’t, makes me angry at this movie.
The second part of this movie I don’t like is towards the very end of the film. Lee’s pregnant wife, Seok-woo and his daughter have survived everything. There is a runaway locomotive engine and the three of them are desperately running after it to catch it and escape the masses. The make it to the ladder at the end of the car and father puts his daughter on first and then helps the pregnant mother up the ladder before joining them. There’s a giant pack of rabid zombies chasing after them that start latching on to the back of the train. they begin creating this collective that all hangs on the back, further posing a threat to the last of the survivors. They’re able to finally free themselves from the last of these ghouls chasing after them and it would seem that they are home free. Then they get to the door of the engine car and inside is the asshole guy, fully infected. So clearly we at least one more confrontation. Dad and Jerk man tussle. You knew it was going to happen. My problem comes in the fact that towards the end of the fight, he purposefully puts his hand directly over the mouth of the zombie dude. What?? Just lays it over his mouth like he’s trying to stop him from blurting out a secret. Guess what happens? He gets bitten. He then sends the dude over the railing down below. As he knows his time is short he instructs the pregnant woman on how to operate the train by reading the brake and the throttle to her. Not sure why she couldn’t do that herself but whatever. Then he tells his daughter how much he loves her as she just bawls her eyes out. Yup. The whole redemption arc for the dad comes to an end in another stupid pointless “sacrifice” to ensure their safety. Just pissed me off. I know we aren’t necessarily going for feelgood at the end. Melancholy is probably at best what we’re aiming for if not general depression at this point. And I’m sure if I thought about it longer I could come up with reasons as to why these choices “work” in one respect or another. But the reality is that I just don’t like it. As a dad, if I’m putting myself in the shoes of this guy then I’m making it. I’m doing whatever I have to do to keep my kids safe. I don’t like mentally being in that space anyways. I don’t like an overwhelming threat to the safety of my children. But if I’m in this setting, I’m not just going to phone it in at the last moment. So whatever messaging or artistic value this final act is supposed to achieve, it just pissed me off.
Ultimately this movie is good for a zombie movie. As quickly as I went online to find a copy of C.H.U.D. for my collection I did the opposite for this movie. I turned it off and was happy to be done with it. The world is destroyed in the end. There’s no hope. There seems to be the possibility that a military stronghold has been established that is able to stave off any further threat where they are at in the end of the film. But who knows if that’s lasting. Up to this point we’ve been inundated with city by city being overrun with the living dead. There’s an infection that’s broken out violently and who knows if they can contain it. Additionally, if 28 Days Later is any indicator, the chance that the humanity and decorum will stand for a lone female and child has a chance of becoming a farce the longer things persist which means that maybe they’d have all been better off blowing up in an explosion. Ultimately I can see why people like this movie. It’s well made. It follows a lot of the same tropes of many other competent zombie flicks. It has very similar plot lines so I don’t know that it’s breaking any molds there. But it’s well acted and visually it’s wonderful. If you’re looking for an impressive zombie movie and not the same old crap that anybody can churn out, this is definitely a movie worth watching. And I know I’ve already spoiled some things so I apologize after the fact I suppose. But the reality is that none of the things I’ve spoiled were hard to see coming a mile away. I think a lot of the success for this film lies in it’s fast paced nature and that it’s executed as well as it is cinematically. Overall I’d probably give it a 6 out of 10, though the parts that piss me off make me want to take more away. But I think that’s a fair score on this movie. If you’ve not caught this one yet and you’re looking for a zombie flick this Halloween time, check this one out. I believe there was a sequel titled “Peninsula” in 2020 as well. I don’t know if people speak as highly of that one or not. If it’s in the same vein as this one I’m sure it’s at least somewhat enjoyable and I’ve not watched it yet so I can’t spoil it here for you so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. But that’s it for me on this zombie train. Until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.