GORE IN THE STORE
ALL OF US ARE DEAD ****
Starring Chan-Young Yoon, Ji-hu Park, Yi-Hyun Cho.
Horror, South Korea, 12 episodes.
Streaming on Netflix.
Hard to believe now but once upon a time zombies were a rare onscreen occurrence. Every now and again you might be lucky if a RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD sequel or Italian knock off appeared on the shelf of your local video library. Now, like George Romero prophesied, the dead have inherited the Earth. Along with film and literature the undead have shuffled across video games, comic books and television. Not only do we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to this perpetual figure of horror we now, thanks to the magic of streaming platforms, get to cross one conquering field with another as the increasingly popularity of South Korean pop culture becomes an ever more dominant force on these very shores.
Sitting alongside other Netflix South Korean zombie hits such as the historical take of KINGDOM and the eerily prescient #ALIVE as well as instant classic TRAIN TO BUSAN, which is knowingly name-checked early on in this already popular saga, ALL OF US ARE DEAD displays the country’s successful and often inventive take on a genre which had seemed to have reached the end of its second life. Clocking in at over twelve hours this may lack the shock of the new but manages effortlessly to grab your attention throughout with its gripping storyline and cast of characters.
The cause of this apocalyptic scenario is the bullying of student Jin-su. Concerned as any parent would be his father, science teacher Byeong-chan takes it upon himself to create a serum that will develop his sons rage and strength to strike back at his vicious bullies, including the sadistic Gwi-nam. This flawed case of parental concern soon has dire consequences as a test subject hamster nibbles on an unsuspecting pupil’s finger and the virus, with all its body contorting and flesh chewing side effects, spreads like wildfire through the school. Stuck right in the middle of this are pupils Cheong-san and his crush Nam On-jo. As they attempt to escape they gather a cast of fellow pupils around them including the cold and distant school president Nam-ra and the handsome, confident Su-hyeok whom On-jo has a crush on, much to the displeasure of Cheong-san who has his own unrequited crush on her.
Set primarily at a high school ALL OF US ARE DEAD seems at first to be splicing teen drama and zombie horror tropes and setting them mainly within the grounds of the school. It soon however spills out into the surrounding city of Hyosan, expanding not only the cast of characters and frenzied situations for them to escape but also a pointed commentary on these times of pandemic we now find ourselves living in with all the talk of surges and disinformation that come with them. Alongside this there is a streak of distrust running throughout, whether it is distrust between generations or in the authorities to do the right thing and even fellow citizens who twist the situation for their own purposes no matter how trivial or selfish.
Like that other South Korean Netflix blockbuster SQUID GAME, ALL OF US ARE DEAD manages to effortlessly combine its cultural commentary with visceral action and emotion. Although it may be overlong at twelve episodes that only gives us time to get to know its characters and to become attached to them even more. Which only makes the often-gory spectacle of those unlucky enough to fall prey to the zombies and the sadistic Gwi-nam all the more gut wrenching. One scene in particular taking a cue from SHAUN OF THE DEAD’s most emotional scene, takes it even further, making it even more harrowing and upsetting.
With nearly every episode ending on a cliffhanger it is hard not to get sucked into this. The propulsive pace and ever-expanding stakes have you hitting the Next Episode option on your remote control despite the late hours you may be watching it until. Even after it is all done you just may find yourself online looking for news of season two which is set up enticingly by the conclusion here. It will no doubt be a long wait but knowing South Korea’s Netflix division they will only give us yet another spin on the genre for us to get addicted to.
Iain MacLeod .