Just a week or two ago, Sean and I were doing the Fantasia Film Festival thing and were about to watch a movie called Alive, for which I’d read the following synopsis: The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It’s funny how we watch movies differently now that we’ve been living in pandemic-related isolation ourselves. Now I can’t even watch people in movies without face masks without feeling a bit of a fever coming on. But it turns out we were watching a different movie, also called Alive, no hashtag, and only now are we getting around to the more social media ready one, which is in fact the one with the raging infection.
Oh Joon-woo (Ah-In Yoo) wakes up alone in his apartment. His parents and sisters have gotten an early start, and Joon-woo isn’t exactly an early bird. Although he appears to be more or less a grown man, they’ve left him grocery money to restock the fridge, and his mother’s last plea is that he not spend the whole time playing video games while they’re away. Commence: video games! Except this turns out not to be just another ordinary day in Joon-woo’s life, as attested by the running and screaming of seemingly everyone else in his high-rise apartment building. Bits of news filter in from various media: some sort of infection transferred through blood is making victims extra violent and quite cannibalistic. You and I might call them zombies, or at least we did before we started battling super-bugs in real life. What will our zombie movies look like now? I bet they’ll cough.
A garbled final message from his parents implores him to survive, so he vows to stay in his apartment, but a) you’ll remember he never went for groceries and b) his apartment isn’t exactly invulnerable. Many days later, on the brink of starvation and in the throes of understandable depression, Joon-woo is all but resigned to his death when a laser pointer indicates another human presence. Out his window he sees that someone else has survived in the building across from his – a young woman named Kim Yoo-bin (Shin-Hye Park). Too far apart for real communication, and with flesh-craving zombies crawling around both their buildings and the parking lot between them, they remain alone but just a little less lonely.
I’m fond of movies that are about how life goes on even during the worst of circumstances, like how little boys still need to live their childhoods, even in Nazi Germany (Jojo Rabbit). And how romance can bloom even while a blood thirsty army is banging down your door. Ideal circumstances? Definitely not. But since when has that stopped anyone?
Director Il Cho navigates the complexities of a zombie-horror-romance in the smart phone age with blood, guts, and selfie sticks. Plus vlogs and drones for good measure. South Korea often does horror very well, and while I might not put this in Train to Busan territory, it’s a pretty decent watch, and since we are, for the most part, still social distancing as much as possible, it’s a good reason to stay home and stay safe, and let others take the stupid risks and internalize those consequences.
Stay #home, stay #Alive.