“Train to Busan” is very much steeped in the idea of humans using the warped concepts of segregation and isolation as a means to survive, not only from the menaces lurking outside our doors, but inevitably from one another. Sook-woo is a hopelessly disconnected workaholic who is confined to his office desk and is still reeling from a bad divorce. Trying to rebound from a bad business deal with a local corporation, and re-connect with his estranged daughter Soo-ahn, he submits to her birthday plea of taking her to Busan on train to see her mother. Despite protesting against it initially, he accompanies her to see her mom. But much to his, and everyone’s surprise, a viral outbreak has exploded on to the train station turning the infected in to rabid, running, flesh eating zombies.
Before long, Sook-woo and daughter Soo-ahn are trapped on the train with other survivors and a rising tide of zombies, and have to figure a way out. Owing a lot to “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later,” Yeon Sang-ho’s horror thriller is a masterful zombie film that succeeds in injecting pure terror in to the sprinting zombie once again. I’ve never been a fan of that kind of zombie, but in “Train to Busan,” they’re bleeding, contorted running corpses that bite everything and will devour a person in minutes. Little is spent on the origin of the walking dead, with a lot of ambiguity thrown in for good measure that elevates the terror. All we know is that a big corporation made a mistake involving a chemical that eventually drips in to the slums. Soon the entirety of South Korea are fighting endless hordes of infected corpses, and the idea of rich and poor, young and old blurs in a sea of blood.
A lot of “Train to Busan” centers on how the train basically becomes a way to split up the fractions of society even during the apocalypse, as the poor are torn in to bits becoming the predators. Meanwhile the higher class survivors have a hard time figuring out survival and do whatever it takes to live, even if it means sacrificing other people. Yoo Gong is great as the initially apathetic Sook Woo who falls in to the mind set of sacrificing others to save himself and his daughter. As the journey carries on, and the numbers dwindle, he begins to realize that mankind is the snake eating its own tail, and that the higher class are capable of relentless self-preservation at the cost even their own. Director Yeon Sang-ho keeps the film at a brisk and steady pacing, offering up some tense and terrifying moments of zombie carnage, including one battle through a trio of train carts involving train tunnels.
Despite the dead being rabid and growling monsters, they tend to creep up on their victims, making every movement a matter of life and death for anyone sneaking around and looking for safety. Along the way, there’s some great stand out performances including Dong-seok Ma who plays Sang-Hwa, a burly, noble working man who makes it his sole mission to protect his pregnant wife. There’s also the remarkable Kim Soo-Ahn whose role as the child coming of age and witnessing these horrors of class divide and moral disintegration elevates the material. Through her eyes we watch as se endures the horrific pain and cruel loss, while clinging to some form of hope that maybe we’re not all complete animals. The movie that “World War Z” should have been, “Train to Busan” has everything. It’s a vicious and blood soaked zombie film with heart, humanity, and rich characterization. With race and class warfare still very relevant topics, “Train to Busan” is the horror movie we need right now.
Now Playing in Limited Release.