A few weeks ago the WGN team got together to discuss our #31DOH lineup and there were plenty of things we wanted to make sure were included. One of the criteria that I absolutely insisted on was that we have at least one zombie movie since when I looked back at last year’s list I realised we didn’t have any. Unless you count the ghouls in Messiah of Evil as zombies, which they kind of are, but not really.
I’ve written before about how back in the 70s and 80s zombies were among the most terrifying of movieland’s monsters, but due to massive pop-culture exposure over the last ten years or so I feel that they have lost a lot of their power to scare. Therefore I definitely wanted a more traditional style zombie film and I’d heard a lot of good things about our Day 1 choice – 2016’s Train To Busan, or Busanhaeng to give it its correct Korean title.
The setup is pretty straightforward: For her birthday Su-an asks her divorced workaholic father Seok-woo to take her on the train to see her mother in the city of Busan. Violence breaks out in the station and an injured woman stumbles into the carriage just as the train departs. She has, of course, been bitten by a zombie and the infection quickly spreads through the train, trapping the survivors at one end.
The first remarkable thing about this film is that almost all of the film is set on a single high-speed passenger train. There are some stops along the way, but the use of a single location for the majority of the action is what separates this out from, not just other zombie films, but other action films too. Think of all those enjoyable single location action films over the years – e.g. Die Hard, Under Seige, Snakes On A Plane – and then throw in the added element of danger that a horde of zombie brings and you’d be somewhere close.
And what zombies! Although they’re extremely fast-moving here they are less like 28 Days Later’s rage-filled monsters and more like World War Z’s swarming organisms intent on spreading their infection – but they feel like much more of a threat than WWZ’s almost cartoonish creatures, becoming more dangerous each time another is added to their number. While much of their behaviour is pretty much what you’d expect of the undead, Train To Busan makes a small but significant addition to zombie lore. I won’t say what for fear of spoiling some great set pieces, but what it does do is make some already claustrophobic situations even more tense.
At its heart Train To Busan is a high concept disaster movie, and the very best disaster movies were never really about the cataclysm, but rather the characters from different walks of life forced to work together and who, of course, are picked off through the film. Here we have the father protecting his daughter, the expectant mother and nervous father to be, elderly sisters, a high school sports team and more, not to mention the obligatory nasty piece of work who tries to screw the others over at every opportunity. It’s quite the large cast of characters and Train To Busan does a very good job of giving them all enough screen time for the viewer to become invested in their individual stories.
So my overall impression is that the beautifully choreographed action sequences, well-rounded characters and zombies which are different enough to give the scare-factor a boost in the arm again make Train To Busan an exciting, fast-paced and incredibly enjoyable thriller.
Remember to follow the hashtag #31DOH on Twitter and Facebook every day in October to see what other terrifying treats we’ve been watching!