I watched #Alive on Netflix the other day without knowing what to expect. Zombie movies can be mixed, with great ones like Train to Busan and mediocre ones that lean too far into cliches.
From the description and trailers, Alive seemed to take a unique approach by focusing solely on one character trapped in his apartment as the zombie outbreak unfolded outside. This more intimate scale intrigued me and gave me hope that the film could offer a fresh take on the well-worn zombie survival story.
Unfortunately, Alive ultimately did not live up to its promising premise. While it had some strengths in the acting and production values, the film was defeated by flawed execution and a heap of plot conveniences that undermined any tension or stakes. The intimate setting only highlighted these flaws rather than enhancing the storytelling.
Let me start by addressing some of the film’s positives (not too positive). The actors, Yoo Ah-in and Park Shin-Hye were quite okay in leading the fairly small cast. Yoo Ah-in, in particular, sold the terror and paranoia of being alone in a zombie-filled city quite well through his expressions and body language.
I believed his mounting panic and desperation as supplies dwindled. Park Shin-Hye also brought empathy to her sympathetic character caught in the same dire circumstances. The production design capturing an empty Seoul under lockdown was also effectively eerie.
However, that’s about where the praise ends for me.
The film moves at a breakneck pace from the very start without taking time to establish rules or logic for the outbreak. We learn almost nothing about how or why it began. Within minutes, society has collapsed, and the city is overrun with the infected. While sudden outbreaks can work (as in 28 Days Later), it felt haphazard here.
Without any set-up or grounding, investing in the character’s situation or seeing the zombies as a serious threat was hard.
And the zombies themselves were incredibly inconsistent. One minute, they would swarm noisily, and the next, a character could openly shout from a balcony with no reaction. Their hearing and behavior changed wildly depending on what the plot needed. Often, it felt like they existed merely as a device to create false alarms and jump scares rather than an actual menace. Their presence added little tension.
But these flaws would be forgivable if the characters behaved logically and made smart decisions. Unfortunately, Alive’s characters act with repeatedly baffling idiocy that strains credibility. Within minutes, the protagonist shouts and makes noise to draw every zombie for miles. He ignores basic survival principles like conserving resources or keeping a low profile. Whenever he barely escapes a threat, he promptly puts himself in an even dumber situation in the next scene.
By the halfway point, I had completely given up on suspending my disbelief because the characters were sabotaging any sense of realism or stakes. Any tension melted away, and I was annoyed at the boneheaded actions driving the contrived plot. They seemed crafted only to create artificial peril through stupidity rather than actual well-written scenarios.
Subtlety and logic flew out the window in favor of cheap thrills.
Even the small character moments and attempts at drama fell flat. The budding romance subplot between the protagonist and the female survivor felt obligatory rather than earned. There was poor chemistry, and their conversations lacked any nuance or depth.
Every development played out predictably, with no complexity to their deteriorating situations or inner lives. They stayed very much plot devices rather than fully realized people.
I could go on, but as the film progressed, it became increasingly evident how heavily Alive relied on coincidence, implausible turns, and idiot plots to move the story along rather than successfully crafting suspense through realistic action/reaction.
The set-up of an isolated survivor mirrored many of my lockdown experiences, but the botched execution meant I could find no relatability or escapism in their portrayed scenario. I was constantly pulled out of the world by its holes and dumb mistakes.
For all its promise of a minimalist, character-driven premise, Alive failed to deliver jeopardy, relationships, or a cohesive storyline to make the most of its intimate setting.
Perhaps it could have achieved something haunting or resonant if it took more time to breathe and develop logic/rules or wrote characters guided by self-preservation rather than convenience. As it stands, the small scale only highlighted its narrative shortcomings rather than enhancing any deeper themes.
In the end, for me, Alive settled firmly as another forgettable zombie entry that squandered opportunities for interesting stories amid societal collapse. While not without some competently made individual moments of visuals or acting, as a full package, it crumbled under illogical decisions and a hackneyed plot reliant on contrivance over craft.
For fans looking for 2020 pandemic perspectives or intimate survival tales, I’d suggest skipping this one in favor of those tackling similar ideas with more care, authenticity, and follow-through.
Unfortunately, this film left me feeling #Underwhelmed.
Movie Rating: 2/5
Note: 3 is the median. Anything above 3 is a recommended watch.