It’s not hard to see why this ferocious zombie flick has broken records in its native South Korea; it provides top notch survival horror thrills in a setting to which we can all relate while also offering a surprising amount of dramatic weight to boot.
The premise is deceptively simple: the passengers on a packed train headed from Seoul to Busan suddenly discover that a fast-spreading virus has been mysteriously unleashed upon the population, turning the infected into raging zombies. There are no surprises for guessing that the train doesn’t stay zombie free for very long.
We focus on just a handful of the passengers – particularly businessman father Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) and his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) – as they try to survive and navigate their way from one end of the train to a makeshift safe zone at the other until it arrives at its destination.
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It’s hard for zombie films to stand out from the shuffling crowd. The Girl With All the Gifts did it recently and Train To Busan does likewise. This is mainly down to just how full on the zombified action sequences are, never messing around with how dangerous the virus is.
Contorting their bodies, violently chomping their teeth and, unlike traditional portrayals of the undead, quick to move – crucially these zombies are genuinely scary.
Save for a few scenes, most of the film is confined to the train. Aside from an ever-increasing sense of claustrophobic fear and terror, it finds inventive ways of using the restricted setting as the characters figure out how they are going to travel practically through the various compartments. You’ll never look at overhead storage in the same way again.
Hitherto animation-focused director Sang-ho Yeon (The King of Pigs, The Fake) delivers a confident, superbly orchestrated barrage of horror-inflected panic that has a literal and thematic forward momentum and remains unpredictable in spite of its familiar genre expectations.
Most importantly it makes us care about these characters, however much they may initially fit into archetypes, so that we’re right alongside them fearing for their lives and clinging to survival.