Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: A high school becomes ground zero for a zombie virus outbreak. Trapped students must fight their way out or turn into one of the rabid infected.
Context: Zombies man; they freak me out. That’s a line from Land of the Dead delivered by the late great Dennis Hopper, but it’s also fitting for a lot of other zombie flicks out there including the South Korean powerhouse zombie action movie, Train to Busan.
Coincidentally this movie is referenced by characters here and the reason I bring this up is a simple one. In this world people know what zombies are. You might be thinking, well EVERYONE knows what a zombie is, but the truth is there are a lot of shows and movies that treat their zombie outbreak like something their characters have never heard of, most famously The Walking Dead where they refer to the undead as “walkers” and other names, but not zombies.
The reason writers do this is to make the choices made by the characters seem logical, because if you’ve never seen a man bite another man and then turn into a “monster”, you might not think “maybe I should avoid getting bit.” Keep all of this in mind as I dissect the latest South Korean series that people are seeking out in hopes of finding another Squid Game, All of Us Are Dead.
Review: The premise is pretty straightforward. We have a pharmacologist turned school teacher who creates a virus to make his bullied son stronger. Instead he inadvertently creates the first zombie, and as the infection spreads, first in a school which plays as the main location for the series and then to the rest of the city of Hyosan, we follow a group of kids that try to survive the outbreak while also hoping to be rescued.
On the positive side we have strong performances by the young actors involved. Each and every one of them really do give it their all and, for the most part, they all get to have story arcs to some degree. That’s not something you’ll usually see in an American-made series where side characters are mostly utilised to prop up the leads. The stakes are also pretty high and there’s never a sense of comfort where you know specific characters will make it all the way to the end. Any fan of Asian media KNOWS there’s no such thing as a “safe” character, and it’s no different here where at any moment your favourite can end up as zombie chow.
The special effects are also pretty decent and very reminiscent of movies like #Alive, another South Korean zombie flick (and one I quite enjoyed). Unlike the zombies western audiences are used to seeing, these zombies look more diseased than decayed. And when you throw in stellar sound design that emulates breaking bones as well as lots of double jointed stunt performers, you’re getting the kind of zombies you pray would never exist. Give me Romero zombies any day of the week (that’s the slow moving kind for those who may not know) because going up against hordes of these bastards, I wouldn’t last an hour, far less a week!
The action sequences were some of the best I’ve ever seen in a zombie-themed show with the standout for me being in episode six (I think, I might be wrong) where a boy named Cheong-san (Park Ji-hoo) is being chased by another boy Gwi-nam (played with villainous glee by Yoo In-soo) while they both try to fend off a mass of zombie students. It’s extremely well shot and executed and is in my opinion the best action sequence in the entire season. There are others that also work well but this was the most memorable.
The series also touches on real life issues that take place during an epidemic such as how government officials try to “pass the buck” looking for others to place the blame on, people spreading fake news which only leads to poor survivors being violently turned away as they try to cross into safer borders (which felt like an allegory of illegal migration) and there’s even a YouTuber who foolishly goes TOWARDS the city in hopes of getting zombie footage so he can get more subscribers. Yeah I hoped he would die too. All of these things work well in creating a zombie series that takes some of its inspiration from anime like High School of the Dead while trying to also tell a meaningful story about the dangers of ignoring the bullied and oppressing the truth.
This could’ve been as good as the movie it referenced but alas, All of Us are Dead suffered from a few issues that were really hard to ignore. Let’s start with the runtime. Twelve episodes, each episode is one hour long. ONE…HOUR…LONG! I am not kidding when I say I struggled to keep going and that struggle was made doubly difficult when you add in the number of redundant scenes of these kids hiding, then running, then someone dies, then hiding again. This could’ve easily been eight episodes and still tell the same story. Instead we have a ton of unnecessary dialogue and moments that are meant to tug on heart strings but ultimately just leave you wanting to get to the next episode.
Another issue here was with the subplots and the characters within those plot lines. Let me reiterate, the performances are very good; the problem is there were just too many characters here in too many different locations making it difficult to care about anyone outside of the main group. Whenever the show would cut away from the group to follow other kids trying to survive I lost interest. It just wasn’t cohesive and caused things to drag on even further. I wish they had left some of this on the cutting room floor, or save it for the second season instead of trying to force all of these people on us at once.
There was also some issues with the storytelling, specifically the issue of bullying. If Asian shows are a real representation of what bullying looks like in those countries, it’s a terrifying thing in itself. These aren’t just bullies in my opinion but kids that need to be punished by the law. Yet while the bullies do get their just desserts, at no point does it feel like a lesson was learnt by any of the people involved.
Now let’s talk about the “Train to Busan” problem. If you know what a zombie is then you know the rules. Yet there are characters here that die very VERY stupidly because they take chances you wouldn’t take if you know what zombies can do. There were also moments of characters dying for no other reason than the writer wants you to “feel something”. The reason the emotional moments work so well in Train to Busan is because they took the time to show us how resilient, caring and courageous the characters were, so when they die you felt it in your bones! Having a character die just because they’re related to one of the kids doesn’t make me care more; it just makes me think that person was really stupid for doing what they did. I can’t say more without spoiling things but I’m sure you’ll know it when you see it.
Overall, All of Us are Dead is a decent zombie show that at times feels derivative of better films and series but is ultimately saved by engaging characters, solid action sequences and a twist on the zombie virus that I think works really well. Is it on the same level as Squid Game? Nope, not even close, as it’s bloated by too much dialogue and moments that really weren’t necessary. That said if you’re a fan of the genre and you don’t mind the runtime, there’s enough here to warrant giving it a go. And there is a set up for a second season that hopefully trims the fat and delivers a tighter, well-paced zombie series that’s as thrilling as the films that inspired it.
Sommer’s Score: 6 out of 10
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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