A hard-hearted Seoul businessman (Gong Yoo) accompanies his 9 year old daughter (Kim Soo-an) to meet his estranged wife in Busan. Unfortunately for them the victim of a zombie attack boards the train seconds before departure and before you can shout ‘All aboard!’ the zombie virus rages through the carriages like wildfire and isolated pockets of survivors – bewildered, outnumbered and unarmed – find themselves fighting desperately for survival.
By far the best zombie movie since at least World War Z (to which it owes a clear debt both thematically and stylistically), this is a tense, nail-biting survival thriller with characters you can really root for and don’t half feel bad about when they go down under the zombie hordes. Director Yeon Sang-ho extracts maximum tension from the cramped settings, quickly divides the survivors up into easily recognisable groups with their own obstacles to overcome and gets two terrific performances, the first from Ma Dong-seok as a beefy blue collar worker saddled with a heavily pregnant wife, whose unstinting selflessness gradually rubs off on Yoo’s callous businessman. The second from little Kim Soo-an, who is astonishingly good as the little girl who can barely comprehend what is happening around her and who sees so much horror your heart just aches for her.
Like World War Z this is about individuals learning to pull together to survive, a theme which culminates in a crackerjack climax as one group of survivors barricade themselves in a carriage and refuse to let any other survivors in even as the zombies close in. It’s edge of the seat stuff with a richly deserved payoff for those humans who in their determination to survive end up behaving even more monstrously than the zombies. Humanist and harrowing in equal measure, it’s a film that doesn’t let up and its penultimate scene – reminiscent of the end of Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead – actually had me looking away from the screen so worried was I that the worst was about to happen. Anyway, an absolute blast and yet another reminder (as if one were needed after the likes of Cold Eyes, The Terror Live, Confession of Murder, Sea Fog, Snowpiercer, Veteran, etc, etc) of just how stunning South Korean genre cinema can be.