infection

Train to Busan

A father who works too much barely knows or spends time with his daughter. For her birthday all she wants is to go stay with her mother in Busan. The father reluctantly agrees to take her in order to make amends for his lack of presence in her life. Soon after the train leaves the station an infected person spreads a zombie virus throughout the train. The survivors must try to get to a safe station to escape from the zombies on board, as well as to avoid the rapid spread of the virus happening across the country.

Train to Busan is a very well done zombie film. The main thing I look for in a zombie film is not only that it is exciting and gory, but that it shows the truth about human nature. This film does an excellent job of showing that humans are the worst monsters during the zombie outbreak. There is a dynamic group of characters that demonstrate the many sides of human nature. Some sides are good, some are borderline evil. The characters are also very well developed. Especially when looking at the father and daughter, the audience is quickly captivated by their relationship and rooting for them to survive through these horrific events. It is also fascinating to watch their relationship develop, and how the father develops as a person, as they ford their way through the zombie outbreak.

Having a grasp of social issues can’t be the only successful aspect of a great zombie film. There has to be a lot of action as well. As if zombie films aren’t already intense and exciting, this film ramps up the sense of urgency by having the film set on a train. The claustrophobic feeling, coupled with the fear of zombies and infection, makes for an adrenaline filled two hours. The filmmakers decided to go with swift moving zombies, which works well for this film. Fast zombies in an enclosed space definitely makes for some cringe-worthy scenes.

There are so many standout performances in this film that it is hard to narrow down. Since the film focuses primarily on the story of the father and daughter, I will highlight their performances. Yoo Gong (The Age of Shadows) portrays the father, Seok Woo. Not only does Gong do an excellent job, but his character also has one of the more compelling story arcs. With the help of his daughter Seok Woo goes from being an absentee father, to a man who will go through anyone to protect his daughter, to a good person who realizes he must try to save everyone. It is a fascinating and realistic progression that Yoo Gong brings to life. Soo-An Kim (Mad Bad Sad) is phenomenal as the daughter, also named Soo-An. She is clearly the heart of this film and shows the good that can come out of stressful situations. She is meant to shine as the exact opposite of the evil parts of human nature, and Soo-An Kim shows us that in spades. She is another example of the many great child actors that have come out of the woodwork this year.

The look of the zombies in this film is really unsettling (in the best way). The zombies have black veining, their eyes are whited out, and they move in exceedingly creepy ways. The zombies do a lot of jerking movements and arch their backs in inhuman ways. These are also very fast and strong zombies. Once they catch sight of you, you better run. While most of the scenes on the train are of human actors with zombie makeup and contorted bodies, many of the wider shots outside the train utilize CGI. I understand why CGI was used for many of the scenes where hordes of zombies are falling all over each other and falling out of windows. That would take a lot of stunt work and insurance policies to achieve with real actors. It unfortunately also takes away from the realism that is felt throughout most of the film. The CGI made it nearly impossible not to draw a connection to the zombies from World War Z, although I can say that Train to Busan far surpasses that film.

Train to Busan is a thrilling and gory zombie flick with a lot of heart. I’m not afraid to admit that it even made me cry. There are honestly very few things I can say about the film that are negative, aside from the bit of CGI use. It is exciting, scary, intense, bloody, and it brings up the many sides of human nature. The more social/political aspects of the film even feel reminiscent of the older Romero zombie films. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you gasp, and it will make you cringe. This is one of the better zombie films of the past decade.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Hive

A young man wakes up alone in a room with no memory of who he is or what happened to him. The room he awakes in has been demolished, the doors and windows are boarded up, and he is covered in black sludge. The only clues he has are drawings of a girl on the wall with the word “remember” written above them. He has to try to bring back his memories in order to save himself. He soon realizes that it is not only his life at stake, but the life of the girl in the drawings as well.

This film has such an interesting and original story line that I can’t think of a single horror film that is like it. That alone makes this a great film. As you can see from the trailer, all the trouble started for the camp counselors when a plane crashed nearby. That crash lead to the spread of a virus around the camp that takes over the host, causing them to almost be possessed by the virus while black sludge oozes out of their mouth and nose. What makes this virus unique compared to what you may have seen in other horror films is that those who become infected also become part of a hive mind (hence the name of the film). This means they can all share each other’s thoughts and memories. This is something that can be seen in many types of insects.

Another aspect of the film that made it more interesting was how the plot is revealed. We come in towards the end of the story. As the film goes on more is revealed through a series of memories. It made the film more interesting and intense because it was almost as if we were remembering things along with the lead actor. The fact that many of the memories are not his own also added to how fascinating the story was. Something else that made this story so compelling was the love story. I feel that the love stories in most horror films are all too predictable and don’t add anything to the story. The love aspect of The Hive felt so sweet and sincere. I’m not even sure I could put my finger on what made the love story so believable, but it actually added to the story instead of detracting from it.

The acting had much to do with the success of the film as well. The two lead actors are relatively unknown. Adam is played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8) and the girl he loves, Katie, is played by Kathryn Prescott (Finding Carter). I was especially impressed with Basso’s performance. Throughout the majority of the film we are seeing things and understanding things along with Basso’s character, and he does a superb job commanding your attention. His reactions and responses to what is happening around him seem completely genuine. The evolution of his character was also very believable, showing Adam go from a guy who is obsessed with girls and his social media accounts to a guy who is in love and will do whatever he can to make things right. Some of the most enthralling performances came from those who were infected. Not only did Prescott deliver a bone-chilling infected performance, but Gabrielle Walsh (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), who played Jess, also gave a performance that really messes with your head.

This film is also visually stunning for a multitude of reasons. I was absolutely blown away by the gorgeous cinematography. The angles and viewpoints used for many of the scenes added so much depth and interest that I found myself thinking “wow that’s gorgeous” in some of the most gruesome scenes. The makeup effects in this film, while disgusting, also added a lot of visual interest. For the most part the infected makeup looks quite a bit like the 2013 remake of Evil Dead; lots of black veining on the skin and black sludge coming out of the ears, nose, and mouth. There is an addition of some rather disgusting yellowish boils and eerie contacts as well. The one thing that really adds to the makeup and makes it stand out is the use of black light. Shortly after we are first introduced to Adam, who is covered in the black veins and ooze, we see him under a black light. With this lighting we see a different set of veining on his skin that glows neon blue. It adds a bit of beauty to this horrific look while also making it stand out from infection makeup looks you may have seen in other films.

The Hive has quickly become one of my favorite horror films of 2015. It really has everything I could want in an infection style horror film. It has an original story with a unique infection, the acting is outstanding, and it is a film that is both horrifyingly gory and stunning at the same time. I also loved that this film surprised me with a story that wasn’t predictable (and therefore was very enthralling). Add the fact that the story line included a romance that didn’t feel forced, and you get a film that feels dynamic and interesting. This is the kind of film that I will be telling everyone to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Maggie

There is a zombie outbreak across the country. A young midwestern girl named Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected by this virus. Her loving father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decided to do what he can to care for her as she goes through her transformation. Maggie tries to live a relatively normal teenage life while she can. Unfortunately, there are several obstacles in her way including people who fear what she will become and the feared “quarantine zone.” How far will her father go to keep her safe?

This film was incredibly well done. I think what I enjoyed the most is that the story took a different approach to the idea of a zombie virus. The transmission of the virus is the same where if a person is bitten by the infected, they will become a zombie as well. Something that was different is that while in most films the change happens within hours, or even minutes, the virus in this film takes days to take over the body. It was very interesting to watch the slow decay of the body, starting at the site of the bite. I also loved that the story went over different stages where the infected start out relatively healthy and normal, but eventually they begin to smell you as food and become more aggressive before they are completely gone. There are also some physical changes that the infected go through as the body decays. One classic zombie trait that the filmmakers kept, which I greatly appreciate, is that the zombies are slow moving. Fast zombies can be fun, but realistically it doesn’t make sense for a corpse to be running around at top speeds (rigor mortis, anyone?).

Maggie was definitely made to be more of a drama set in a zombie apocalypse than a true horror movie. That made the film especially effective. It is less about the flesh eating creatures lurking in the shadows and more about the people who are trying to get by in this new world. It especially focuses on the father-daughter relationship. It is hard to imagine what you would do if someone you loved was bitten. Would you hide them from the authorities? Would you do anything to protect them? When the time came would you put them out of their misery? Or worse, would you give them over to the quarantine? The only thing that bothered me about the storyline is that they never tell you how Maggie got bit by a zombie in the first place. They had occasional mini-flashbacks but nothing that truly explained what happened.

The acting in this film was also excellent. Abigail Breslin is one of the child stars who has been able to continue her career and show time and time again how talented she really is. Not only does Breslin portray what it is like to be a teen in this dark world, but she superbly goes through all the emotions of knowing you have a limited amount of time before becoming a zombie. I was also quite impressed with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of his movies, but I have only ever seen him as an action star as opposed to a true actor. He proved me wrong in this film. Everything he did was understated, yet you felt his character’s struggle as he essentially watches his daughter go through a slow death. He did such a great job that I wasn’t even bothered by a midwestern farmer having a thick Austrian accent.

Considering the fact that this is a zombie film, albeit a dramatic zombie film, the makeup effects were very subtle and beautiful. There was only a bit of gore makeup, mostly with the infection site and when a zombie was put down. The makeup was primarily showing how the virus slowly spreads and kills the infected from the inside by creating a black-veined look on the skin. They also created a haunting look by making the eyes look like the infection decayed them as well. Overall the look was muted, but still created the intended effect of what a zombie would look like.

Maggie is definitely a must see movie of 2015. It does an excellent job of telling an effective story of strong family bonds, that just happens to involve zombies. The fact that it blurs the lines between multiple film genres also makes it a great film to watch, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy horror movies. Keep in mind when seeking this movie out that it is primarily a dramatic film. If you are looking for something with more scares or action, then this is not the film for you. I would recommend this film to practically any adult film lover because of its relatively simple storyline of a father-daughter relationship done in a very unique way.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10