outbreak

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

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