No food, no weapons, minimal practical skills: What’s a doofus gamer to do when facing murderous opponents he can’t kill with a joystick? Oh Joon-wo, the protagonist of “#Alive,” hunkers down in his apartment and tries to wait things out. This can only work for so long — the single-minded attackers are undead and have all the time in the world.
A Korean import now streaming on Netflix, “#Alive” deftly mingles the zombie and siege genres. Escalating “food is running out!” tension only adds to the lockdown suspense.
For his feature debut, the director Cho Il never takes his foot off the gas pedal: minimal exposition, no back stories, little dialogue, a plot that’s cut to the bone — this is a fat-free but full-flavored treat.
The world goes to pot in the film’s first three and a half minutes, when a news report announces the quick spread of a mysterious infection whose symptoms are “screaming and a bleeding of the eyes.” Also, cannibalism.
For almost half the running time, Joon-wo (Yoo Ah-in, who made quite an impression in the offbeat thriller “Burning” two years ago) is home alone. Most zombie movies involve the suspenseful scavenging of grocery stores and horrifying vistas of a destroyed world. Here, days trickle by in an apartment as Joon-wo passively waits for the situation to improve. Hopelessness hits him hard after he’s slurped his last bowl of instant noodle, but fortunately a resourceful neighbor, Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-hye), finally makes contact.
She is not impressed by Joon-wo at first (“Could he really be an idiot?” she muses) but quickly the pair put their gadgets, including a drone, to good use as they try to escape their building complex. But where to go?
The only time the film stumbles on a cliché is with the late introduction of a supporting character engaging in a make-believe scenario we’ve seen many times. Aside from that, “#Alive” is a nifty little thriller that proves that you can always find signs of life in the most undead of genres. And the finale, far-fetched as it is, suggests that even a society atomized by isolation can find connection.
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on Netflix.