NEET of the Living Dead
One of #Alive’s most welcome assets is its knowledge that its audience has seen plenty of zombie movies, and thus doesn’t spend any more time than necessary before things go haywire. The movie hits the ground running, only lasting a few minutes before the inevitable outbreak; just long enough for us to get a brass-tacks introduction to Oh Joon-woo (Ah-In Yoo), a twentysomething slacker living in his parents’ apartment. Home by himself when the pandemic hits, he watches powerlessly from his fourth-floor Juliette balcony as sprinting, ravenous zombies devour the residents of his neighborhood. Securely barricaded in the apartment, he tries to contact his family and find a way to get rescued. But Joon-woo’s food and water are in short supply, putting an expiration date on his isolated haven.
#Alive doesn’t reinvent its genre, faithfully adhering to most zombie-movie tropes, but at least it gives us a fresh protagonist: one of the isolated shut-ins who would undoubtedly exist in a situation like this. Yoo is likable in the role, with a goofy charm that never feels too broad. His appeal comes from the fact that he decidedly isn’t the classic zombie-movie survivor; he’s a civilian, and a somewhat incapable one at that. In other words, he’s like most of us, and the movie’s choice to keep his occasional heroics on the believable side makes him more endearing than the most hardened action hero.
That role is reserved for Kim Yoo-bin (Shin-Hye Park), a fellow survivor living in the apartment directly across from Joon-woo. The two strike up a walkie-talkie friendship, exchanging information and supplies via a rigged rope spanning the two apartments. A former climber, Yoo-bin proves to be adept in the art of zombie-killing, so much so that the later scenes showing off her incredible skills clash with the more down-to-earth tone of the first act. #Alive cares less and less about realism and internal logic as it progresses, with Joon-woo looking extremely hale and clean after weeks with minimal food and water; and the zombies’ behavior and intelligence fluctuating from scene to scene.
That said, director Il Cho knows how to stage a zombie set-piece, creatively working within the boundaries set by the isolation of the two main characters. A scene of Yoo-bin being attacked in her apartment, with Joon-woo’s remote-controlled drone the only weapon at his disposal, is a tense, funny highlight. The movie becomes far less interesting when the two survivors inevitably meet in person, turning into something far more rote than the comparatively unique first half. There’s a few too many down-to-the-wire chases with ravenous hordes of ghouls, as well as a detour with a third survivor that’s easy to predict.
#Alive’s attempts at pathos are rarely laughable, but they tend to fall somewhat flat given the movie’s shallow script. Any emotional investment comes from the sympathetic performances of the two leads, rather than the trauma experienced by their thinly-drawn characters. But the friendship between Joon-woo and Yoo-bin proves to be just enough for #Alive’s modest aims, keeping the movie afloat during its lesser moments. The third act pulls out all the stops for a rousing finale, which is somewhat spoiled by a corny, melodramatic coda. If the filmmakers had really wanted their movie to be taken seriously, they shouldn’t have put a hashtag in front of its title.