Just as a high-speed intercity train is about to pull out of the station in Seoul, a young woman — moaning, in pain, bitten — hops aboard. Before long, a “violent riot” has broken out, just like the ones the news channel is reporting are erupting in cities across the country. Social media sites on the passengers’ smartphones are popping up one trending keyword: “zombie.” Train to Busan, the live-action debut of animation director Sang-ho Yeon, with a script by Joo-Suk Park, broke box-office records when it opened in South Korea last week, and with good reason. This is an oozy doozy of a horror-thriller, one that confidently spins out its own unique — and breathless — take on familiar genre tropes. The voracious bloodlust of undead bodies that bend and move in disturbingly abnormal ways feels like an affront to the sleek shininess of the train, and the enclosed spaces of the narrow carriages only concentrate and amplify the terror they bring. (Most of the movie takes place onboard the train, but even the occasional spills off it, like into a station concourse, make striking use of everyday spaces.) But the best horror movies know that the real monsters are often to be found among ordinary people, and so Train gives us a host of passengers fighting among themselves as they fight for their lives: cold single dad Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his sweet gradeschool daughter, Su-an (Su-an Kim); pregnant Sung-kyung (Yu-mi Jung) and her gruff husband, Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma); an entire athletic team (baseball bats turn out to be handy weapons for fighting zombies); and others. The predicament of these characters, sharply drawn in broad but poignant strokes, becomes more unexpectedly affecting than we’re used to from horror flicks, and ends up being as much about retaining — or finding — oneself as saving a life.
Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) (2016)
US/Canada release date: Jul 22 2016 | UK release date: Oct 28 2016
MPAA: not rated BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence)