Director: Cho Il-hyung
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Park Shin-hye
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Mine, and I suppose most other people's first thoughts on #Alive, would be trying to see if the zombie virus of this film holds as a metaphor for the Coronavirus. It infects an immunologically naive population i.e. one that has never been exposed to it prior. One person can infect more than one other person, and the curve is thus exponential. And the most important parallel, both can be asymptomatic. It checks out. (It must be noted, however, that the film was written and filmed before COVID19 emerged, these parallels are therefore entirely unintended by the makers.)
While it keeps the biology of the virus intact, it takes the aftermath a bit beyond what we have seen- there is no mobile signal, people hang off railings, their phone towards the sky in selfie sticks to catch the airwaves, the dead are not confined but are roving around, licking blood from the corners of their dripping mouth, waiting to infect others, and of course the urban desolation, and food shortage is an exaggerated version of what most privileged urban people, like the two principal boy-girl characters of this film – O Jun-u (Yoo Ah-in) and Kim Yu-bin (Park Shin-hye) – experienced.
This exaggeration is necessary. This isn't a human drama, but a survival saga, and thus, to create barriers that seem insurmountable is just narrative logic. You don't learn much about the character beyond their bravado and fortitude. And as much as you hope that there is some reversal, or cure, as viewers of the zombie genre, we know the only possible happy ending is the annihilation of the infected.
There is something pat about the way the film starts, one morning Jun-u just wakes up to find zombies in his town. It's odd, the world is on its head, and he isn't stocked up. (He wakes up to find a sticky note penned by his mother to shop for groceries that day- he's alone at home.) He uses his mother's text, that he must survive, as some sort of online journaling, from which the hashtag of the title comes. This is a line of thought discarded when the action gets going. There are stray moments of emotion, like his imagining his parents entering the house, backlit by warm light, and the parents walk-in as if it were just another day. How he wishes, this day too could be just-another-day. There's another gut-wrenching moment when a man lets his infected wife, whom he loves deeply, eat him alive. "It's okay, I love you," he says as he holds her and she chomps on him.
The action sequences are palpable, but beyond a point even the makers seem to be agonized by the zombies- they just tear-gassed them. The rush of horror is felt in the aftermath of the silent scenes. But there's something genre-generic about it all. It is only when the film plays in the soft ranges of the story that it elicits something. There's a discernible unease you feel on behalf of the makers- see-sawing between the emotional and the action-packed, committing to none entirely. The emotion is solely drawn from Yu-bin who makes for an unlikely companion, living opposite Jun-u's window- meticulous, and reserved to his child-like gregariousness. Seeing them bond, share meals by flinging it across through tied rope, and impart hope by osmosis is the most endearing part of the film I took away.
When we first see Jun-u, chrome tinted, closely cropped hair playing a video game, gunning people down as pixels obliterate, he does not know he would become the pixel in a matter of moments. It's the suddenness of such tragedy that can be a minefield for both emotion and bravado. #Alive privileged the latter, but it's hard to not keep the former in mind. One day we are taking the local train to work, and the next day, the local just won't run.