Train to Busan (2016) — We’re on a subway to hell

“Dad, you only care about yourself. That’s why mommy left.”

Justin’s rating: You just HAD to step on the pop can

Justin’s review: Divorced workaholic Seok-woo is not really living his best life, especially as a father to his six-year-old daughter. Having failed her and the family one too many times, he’s looking for a spot of redemption by taking his girl on an hour-long train to Busan for her birthday. Turns out that this “spot” of redemption is kind of like that Cat in the Hat story where it balloons up to enveloping the entire neighborhood.

This is because this ill-fated train ride happens to take place during South Korea’s first big zombie outbreak. The word hasn’t gotten out about it, although there are several background details — fire trucks, agitated crowds in the subway, a near-catatonic guy whimpering that “all dead there” — indicating that something terrible is happening. The ignorance of the situation works well for a confined setting like a bullet train, because people aren’t quite in a full-fledged panic over the Z-word.

That changes, and right quick, when an infected dashes aboard and starts a one-woman outbreak that rapidly spreads from car to car. Jerking and twitching back to “life” in a most unsettling way, the undead rush the passengers and a fight to survive breaks out as literal piles of zombies wash over seats. With panic rising and options for escape limited, the dwindling cast of survivors look for any way to make it to the allegedly safe city of Busan.

Seok-woo, now regretting everything that led his life up to this moment, teams up with a few other survivors, including a martial artist protecting his pregnant wife and a couple of athletes heading home after the big game. He’s got to make the transition from selfish to selfless in a tearing hurry, because these zombies aren’t going to stop to let him have a gradual epiphany.

Train to Busan made huge waves when it released, thanks to taking the well-worn tracks of zombie fiction (it IS fiction, right?) and giving it a spin that made it feel intense, immediate, and exciting. Setting it in South Korea, where the urban population is quite dense — and thereby the outbreak massive — makes the dubious sanctuary of trains the only path to survival for these people. But will it be enough? And who will make it to the end credits?

The unexpected surprise with this film is the thought that went into the zombies. Not only are their movements and creepy mouth-breathing unnerving, but they boast a couple of exploitable weaknesses. Most notably, they’re easily tricked, can’t operate doors, and won’t chase people if they can’t see them. It’s pretty much only this that gives the survivors any chance, although they do eventually have to band together to fight instead of merely run away all the time (like poor Sir Robin, who never made it out of the opening credits).

It’s a solid zombie flick with an interesting setting and a character who goes from zero to hero in the final days. I can see why this movie is so acclaimed.

Didja notice?

  • Zombie deer is most frightening deer
  • Kids kind of notice when you buy the same present for them twice. Or three times.
  • Worst piggyback ride ever
  • The door covering was a smart idea
  • Airborne zombies
  • That door locking lasted all of two seconds
  • Cell phones make good diversionary tactics

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