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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 25: TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

Hell on earth, and there's nowhere to hide.

Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) is a workaholic whose obsessive concentration on his job has led to estrangement from his wife (who has left him) and his unintentional neglect of Soo-An (Kim Su-an), his sweet little girl. For her birthday, more than anything else, the depressed child wants to visit her mother in the city of Busan, so her father, racked with guilt over having missed his daughter's recital where she had practiced a song intended for him, takes a rare day off from work and accompanies Soo-an on the long train journey departing from Seoul. But as the train leaves the station, Soo-an looks out of the window and sees people outside acting strangely. One of those individuals boards the train, unnoticed by the train's security officer, and once she's on board she makes her way into the bathroom to apply a makeshift tourniquet to her mauled leg. She eventual emerges from the restroom but it's clear that there's something seriously wrong with her. She collapses in the vestibule between cars and, as a female staffer attempts to help her, the afflicted woman goes into convulsions and rises as a white-eyed, blood-drooling, savage killing machine. She attackers her would-be rescuer, who also turns into an insane, ravening killer, and as the two claw and tear their way through a carload of terrified passengers, the infection rapidly spreads, creating a horde of zombie-like "infected" whose urge to kill is stimulated by them being able to see their prey with their limited vision, and when their ability to visually perceive victims is impaired by darkness or obscuring windows with some form of a shade, they track with their hearing.

 The implacable hordes of the Infected.

To say more about the plot's details would spoil the experience for potential viewers, so I'll merely make a few points and move on:

  • The film works within the same tense parameters as relentless, no-way-out horror classics like the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and DOG SOLDIERS (2002), and is an intense study of a disparate group of people trying to survive on a train filled with mindless creatures bent on senseless murder.
  • The script, performances, and direction are all top-notch from start to finish, and I dare to say this film comes from out of the glutted zombie genre to earn distinction as an instant classic.
  • Unlike the usual ciphers/cannon fodder that populate most horror films, the people depicted here are all fleshed-out characters whom we get to know, understand, and care about, so their struggle for survival becomes ours by way of empathy, and it is one rough motherfucker of a ride.
  • Though ostensibly a zombie apocalypse movie (despite the monsters technically being diseased and not supernatural in any way) and quite intense in its depictions of victims being savaged six ways to Sunday, the film is surprisingly not the gorefest one may go into it expecting. Believe me, it's so intense that any showers of gratuitous gore would have been utterly beside the point.
  • I've seen TRAIN TO BUSAN twice, in both its native Korean with English subtitles and with the English language dub, and of the two the one with subtitles is the one to go with. I recently ran the dubbed version for some friends — our DVD player for some reason would not allow the subtitles to be seen for the Korean version, so we had no choice but to watch it with dubbing —  and when the film started there were titters at English vocal delivery that made the actors sound like anime characters. Once things got intense, which was early on,  we were able to ignore the fact that things were dubbed and just enjoy the ride, but take my word for it that the native language/subtitled option allows the performances to be experienced as originally intended, and the film is all the stronger for it.
As you have no doubt figured out by now, I rate TRAIN TO BUSAN as a solid winner. It's tension-filled, brutal, and incredibly bleak, and is hands down one of the finest horror efforts of the decade. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION, and I say that as a guy who is waaaaay past sick and tired of zombie movies.

Poster from the Korean theatrical release.

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