Is solidarity really the answer to alienation? The latest in a short line of zombie-related crisis movies, Cho Il-hyung’s oddly prescient #Alive (#살아있다, #Saraitda) presses directly into what it means to live in a time of isolation as its already introverted hero discovers the existential dread of true aloneness, orphaned by his society and quite literally surrounded by cannibalistic threat only to rediscover the desire for life in the company of others vowing to survive not out of obligation but individual will.
A young man in his 20s, Jun-u (Yoo Ah-in) lives at home with his parents and seems to be a virtual shut-in not quite supporting himself as a pro-gamer/vlogger. He ought to be in his element when he turns on his television one day to discover that a violent riot has apparently erupted all over the city, apparently spreading like a virus which causes aggressive behaviour and cannibalistic frenzy. Unfortunately, Jun-u’s parents left early that morning and didn’t have time to prepare food, leaving him money to go out for groceries but obviously it’s too late for that now and it looks like they won’t be coming home. Jun-u is entirely alone, and all the more so when his usual lines of communication are cut.
Like the thematically similar EXIT, with which #Alive shares its faith in mountaineering, #Alive concerns itself less with the zombie threat than with youthful alienation and a sense of hopeless despair. Jun-u ought to be in his element, but finds himself ill-equipped for surviving the apocalypse given that he lacks basic adult life skills and those he does possess are now ironically unhelpful. Resourceful as he is, he remembers a smartphone app that would help him communicate via FM radio and all he’d need would be a standard earphone jack only all his earphones are wireless. Making the most of his unstable connection he uploads a single photo of himself holding his address written on the side of a cardboard box with the hashtag #I_MUST_SURVIVE to his Instagram in the hope that someone will see him but becomes increasingly despondent as his food and resources dwindle and he receives a disturbing voicemail which suggests his family may not have escaped the disaster.
Hitting rock bottom he considers taking his own life but is saved by a literal light in the darkness, a laser shone from an opposing apartment signalling another presence he had previously missed. Believing he was alone in the world, Jun-u lost the will to live and faced with the prospect of waiting to starve to death or venturing out among the zombie hoards chose the only agency available to him in deciding the time and manner of his death. Realising he is not alone restores his desire for life, yet Yu-bin (Park Shin-hye), though much more well prepared, is also dealing with her own trauma in the face of crisis in the memory of a climbing fall that leaves her additionally anxious and fearful of physical risk. Where Jun-u flounders, lamenting as so many of us has in recent years, that no one seems to know what’s going on, the news continually flashing the same info screen while telling viewers only to stay home, Yu-bin has constructed a mini fort complete with a series of booby traps perhaps content in her independence having resolved to live and glad to have discovered she is not entirely alone.
In contrast to disaster movie tropes, the pair instantly bond in their shared bounce back from despair, developing unconventional means of communication while Yu-bin willingly shares her food stash which in turn gives Jun-u the courage to venture outside for supplies. Eventually reuniting they do their best to withstand the zombie hoards, standing in as they are for the various anxieties which otherwise surround and oppress them, only to find themselves betrayed, worried that perhaps they have after all been abandoned and that no one is there looking out for them. Their salvation lies in their connection, the derided social media proving a lifeline that both affirms their existence and restores a sense of community that returns their safety, airlifting them from the locus of despair finally #Alive and returned to the world secure in the knowledge that they are not alone.
Netflix trailer (English subtitles)