Zombies is a horror genre that has been done to death (pardon the pun) and it is refreshing when something new comes along to offer a different take on the genre. There isn’t much that Train to Busan offers differently as all the key ingredients of a classic zombie are there however there is a heart and drama to the proceedings that elevates it above all the other zombie movies out there.
Most zombie movies live or die on three key components – the characters, the locations and the zombies themselves. The characters here are the usual eclectic mix. From the central father and young daughter with a strained relationship, to the frank and direct middle-aged man travelling with his pregnant wife through to the more comical elderly sisters who bicker as much as they care for each other; there is enough variation that you empathise for them in different ways once the zombie action starts.
These are just a selection of the vast array of characters that embody the train of the title. There are also some of the more stereotypical, particularly the usual selfish businessman who just cares about survival and offers little of heroics. It helps that this is a South Korean film too because it means nobody seems to stand-out as the key star and it isn’t always clear who will be left standing as the movie ends.
As for the location, most zombie movies find themselves set in that one claustrophobic environment. Train to Busan is no different and as the title suggests, is primarily set on a train. This is the perfect kind of location that works because it offers little to no escape. It presents new challenges for the characters, particularly when events split them up and they must find a way back down the train towards their loved ones.
It also offers some unique storytelling opportunities. The events of a zombie outbreak are happening all around the country but only news screens and phone conversations offer any indication of how severe the terror is. It also adds to the drama of the journey itself as the cast, and subsequently the audience, aren’t sure where is best for the train to stop. This makes for some excellent tense scenes as characters leave the train to try their luck with other modes of transport, usually leading to some well-staged set-pieces.
This is one of the real triumphs of Train to Busan. It balances the horror, drama and action very well. The zombies have their own unique traits and with all good zombie movies they have a set of “rules” for their style of zombie. These are the “fast” zombies, fuelled by the kind of mad rage seen in 28 Days Later or World War Z. It means that these can’t be easily dispatched and there are some very tense, edge of your seat altercations as the heroes are caught in tight situations with the zombies themselves.
It matters so much more because you are invested in the characters. They are all well-established and fleshed-out characters that develop as the story progresses. This means that when the deaths occur they matter and when characters are in danger or have moments of personal loss, it hits home even harder. It places the characters before the horror and becomes a more tense experience because of this.
Overall, Train to Busan is an effective, well-constructed zombie movie. It has well-established characters who add drama and tension to the story. There are some great set-pieces which keep you on the edge of your seat and brings some fresh approaches to the well-worn zombie genre.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)
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