There were a ton of horror films released in 2016. Like every year, there are of course, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wish I could say I’ve seen them all, but we all know that this is close to impossible with real life getting in the way of movie watching. There were, however, a few last-minute releases that were making waves amongst horror fans that I knew I just had to see sooner rather than later. One of those films is Sang-ho Yeon’s outbreak flick, Train to Busan.
The quick synopsis for Train to Busan is rather simple — there is some sort of viral outbreak causing everyone effected to turn into ravenous zombies, while a group of people try to stay alive aboard a train, traveling from Seoul to Busan. The problem with this quick and to-the-point summary is that it does not do the film much justice; There is much more substance here and I can assure you that this film is not just another forgettable addition to the zombie sub-genre.
Let’s start with the main attraction of any outbreak flick, which is undoubtedly the zombies, themselves. We’ve seen the slow-moving, not-very-exciting undead of the Romero classics, along with the fast-paced, almost sprinting hordes of 28 Days Later. There is certainly a place for both types of resurrected in horror film history, but in today’s atmosphere, do we really want to see a bunch of barely moving monsters walking across our screen? I don’t think so.
Train to Busan features spastic, convulsing zombies who are quick and vicious. While their design is rather simplistic compared to most of the modern-day undead we see in film and television, they look wonderful. Their veiny, pale complexion is rather elementary, but highly effective and quite sufficient. There is no need for complete decay or half-ripped apart ghouls running around. The virus is contracted and spread rapidly, and so too do the zombies move.
Writer and director, Sang-ho Yeon, opts out of the extremely gory approach, but that is not to say that the film is tame in any way. Train to Busan is action-packed with more infection spreading than you can imagine. The main method of transferring this virus, like most other instances, is through biting. That’s it, though. No extra gut-shredding or being ripped to bits necessary. All effects look spectacular and though there are some instances of zombie pile-ups a la World War Z, the CG is executed without hiccup, keeping the authenticity of the unfolding events to a maximum.
About 99% of Train to Busan takes place on, you guessed it, a train! If you think about it, a train is a perfect setting for a horror film. Recall watching the great slasher Terror Train or the more recent Howl; Although a locomotive is a means of transport, there is literally nowhere the passengers can go, other than running from train car to train car. The cramped quarters and fast pace of the vehicle itself,, most definitely create a very intense and suspenseful environment; The primary objective would be to get off at the soonest station, but in Train to Busan, once these frightened civilians are let off, they quickly realize that the claustrophobic rail cars are the safest place for harbor, after all. This leads the characters, along with us, the viewers, back to ‘square one’ with really no means of escape in sight.
Any truly great film, horror or otherwise, has to include a few things. One of which is competent acting. Every single performer in Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan is extremely talented and has delivered stellar performances. As I watched the time dwindle down in this nearly two-hour film, I was blown away by what this cast was able to accomplish. There were no weak links at all in the entire ensemble, but my favorites were most certainly Soo-an Kim and Yoo Gong, who portrayed Su-an and her father, Seok Woo, respectively. Kim, no older than 10 years old, delivers one of the most heart-felt performances I’ve seen in years. Gong wasn’t far behind as Kim’s father, both helping to carry an already fantastic film further into ‘instant classic’ territory.
Whether you are a part-time horror viewing novice or consider yourself a gore flick connoisseur, you need to put Train to Busan at the very top of your ‘to watch’ list. This film has blown me away, something of which I never expected. It features beautiful special effects, both practical and CG, incomparable acting performances, a superb script, and characters you actually care about. The film is currently available to stream digitally, or be sure to pick up a copy on DVD and/or Blu-ray available Tuesday, January 17 from Well Go USA Entertainment.
It is very rare that Roger, myself, or any other [guest] reviewer give any film a perfect score, but I really can’t see this one receiving anything but that. Train to Busan most certainly gets 5 tacky ringtones out of 5 from yours truly.