If I’d wanted to, I could have simply said “This movie’s about a dude and his daughter in a zombie apocalypse on a train.” and left it at that.
That’s the basic plot, but, Train To Busan is more than a run-of-the-mill zombie movie. It’s a different take on the zombie apocalypse, tackling ideas that I’ve long wished someone would (Like zombies on a train), and doing an excellent job of displaying just how horrific the beginning of a zombie apocalypse can be.
I say “can be” because, as should be no secret, I lament the way Fear The Walking Dead rushed through the beginning of the outbreak.
After the first three episodes of the series focused on the first three days of the outbreak, the series jumped all the way to nine days later, skipping over the most important part: When the world collapsed.
Ever since, Fear has felt slightly off, with our protagonists suddenly walking through an, apparently, abandoned world. Honestly, outside of the last two episodes, I’ve gotten the most enjoyment from the show out of the odd flashback to the beginning of the outbreak.
Train To Busan, however, does not suffer this problem, as the movie takes place almost entirely within the very second day of the outbreak, and avoids virtually any skipping. We only skip portions of the first day as most of Seoul operates blissfully unaware of the hell that is encroaching. We get just enough to see what’s coming and to establish Seok-woo’s personality and his relationship with his family.
While we’re on the subject, one of those hints we get of what’s coming is a zombie deer. Zombie animals seem like a rarity in western zombie media. In fact, the only ones that immediately come to mind come from Resident Evil, which is Japanese in origin. This makes me wonder: Is the idea of zombie animals bigger to the zombie concept in the Far East?
Speaking of the zombies, while in some ways they do resemble their western counterparts (Pale, graying skin, discolored eyes, mindlessness, etc.), they also carry traits that make them quite distinct.
For one thing, while twitching before reanimation is common in western zombie media, Train To Busan’s zombies seem to twitch almost constantly; In fact, their jerky movements seem very reminiscent of the freaky ghost woman from the modern Japanese horror classic, The Grudge. Clearly, this unnerving form of movement is another horror theme shared across the East Asian region.
Of course, the movie also seems to dip into the odd trope that’s much more akin to ones back here in the west.
As the passengers disembark to what they presume is the safety of a military cordon, Seok-woo attempts to call his client in the military. Seok-woo’s client tipped him off to a quarantine waiting for them and instructs Seok-woo to split from the crowd and find his unit.
Yet, in a nice bit of horror reminiscent of the famous “Calls are coming from inside the house!” scene from “When A Stranger Calls”, as Seok-woo attempts to call his client, he informs Seok-woo he can’t get in contact with his unit, just then, a wounded soldier staggers towards him, only to be tackled by approaching zombies. At around the same time, the rest of the passengers discover the horrible fate of the military in Cheoson: They’re all infected.
And, once again, I feel it necessary to draw comparisons to Fear The Walking Dead, and not positive ones, I’m afraid.
Watching the passengers step off the train to an empty platform where they’re expecting rescue gave a wonderful (As a viewer) sense of dread. Once again, I expected something bad, and sure enough, the passengers found something bad.
The people sent to help them had all been overrun and it left them (And me) wondering where they could go next.
Honestly, I wish I had felt that way in the second half of Season One or the first half of Season Two of Fear. I wish we’d gotten to see why the military deemed L.A. untenable. I would have loved to have seen someone: Madison, Daniel, Travis, Nick, Adams, anybody see things in the city deteriorating.
Whether this would have been Madison actually seeing the military executing survivors, or we the audience seeing the arena safe-zone going crazy, I don’t care. So long as we saw our protagonists thinking that things were okay or under control, only for that illusion to be violently shattered, the horror fan in me would have been happy.
Yet..we didn’t. All we got were a few dead civilians, an infected filled arena, and a military which abandoned what looked like an empty city. That fear that could be generated from seeing society topple, from seeing the people we rely on in a disaster not only being ineffective, but, abandoning all hope could have been great to watch unfold in the show, yet, sadly, Fear never gave us that.
This is something Train To Busan did very well, and I can only sit back and imagine how cool Fear could have been had they done it that good.
Looking back on it, I think one of the things I appreciate most about Train To Busan was its minimalism. By that I mean there was very little exposition. There were never moments of people arguing about if the infected were alive or dead or explaining that an infected bite infected you. The characters in the movie just collectively seemed to know. The most we got was Seok-woo confessing that the infected seemed drawn by sight.
By stripping the exposition away, Train To Busan gave us characters who just seemed to be reacting. They didn’t have time to process or question what was going on, they only had time to focus on surviving.
In removing some staples, and incorporating a little more of the larger picture the characters existed in, Train To Busan gave us an excellent window into, if nothing else, the way the start of a zombie apocalypse should be. For that, I am especially grateful.