All Aboard the Zombie Train

train12013.34: Train to Busan (2016)

Train to Busan is a thoroughly entertaining Zombie movie- it can’t be said that it really offers anything new to this post-Dawn of the Dead/28 Days Later/World War Z genre, but what it does deliver, it delivers well, with plenty of thrills, gore and spills. What else could you possibly want from a Zombie movie?

It’s curious, considering how the tv Zombie juggernaut The Walking Dead seemed to be suffering from such lethargy and tiredness with its most recent season, that this film still manages to be such a fresh, kinetic experience. WTD aside, it’s not as if we never see Zombie films etc these days- they are pretty much everywhere and yet this film feels so original and entertaining. Certainly the backroom staff of TWD would do well to see this film and heed its lessons- namely, maintain pace and maintain the threat: it’s the end of the world after all. The tv show seems more concerned with fellow humans being the real danger and the zombies just background noise- almost becoming incidental to the show, an occasional diversion for a little gore and action when the daily politics of survival become tiresome. It is almost becoming boring.

Train to Busan is not at all boring. An outbreak from a pharmaceutical lab or chemical factory (I may have missed details, it seemed vague, but no doubt it will be clearer on a second viewing) is getting out of hand and threatens South Korea with a Zombie Apocalypse. It’s almost as if this was some Far-East spin-off  from the World War Z movie from a few years back, which strikes me as being a pretty neat idea, letting film-makers from around the world write and shoot movies telling what happened in their locales during WWZ.  Could have been a very interesting and enjoyable franchise.

Anyway, it’s the dawn of a Zombie Apocalypse and an infected human gets onboard a train just as it begins its long journey. Instantly this train journey becomes a microcosm of what is happening out in the big wide world- a varied cast representing various age groups and areas of society, trapped in the restricted space of the train carriages as the zombie infestation takes hold and the brain-hungry critters work their way through the train. It rather reminded me of the great Snowpiercer; in some ways this is that films horror cousin. There are some great set-pieces and the film surprises, given its fine sense of claustrophobia, how it opens up the sense of scale at times, particularly near the end.

It’s good fun, and there is such a lot to enjoy. The acting, the twists and turns of the witty script, the make-up, editing and visual effects. Brilliant stuff, the only negative about the whole thing is I worry about the eventual Hollywood remake being announced someday- it seems almost inevitable, sadly. Starring the Rock, no doubt.


High Rise (2015)

high1.jpg2016.93: High Rise (Amazon VOD)

About the only thing this film seems to get ‘right’, that at least makes it interesting enough to stomach all the way through its interminable two hours, is its cool-1970s aesthetic; the sets, the costumes, the hair styles, its all like some kind of strange alternate-1970’s universe, as if its all set a few years after A Clockwork Orange. Its a beautiful, funky horror. Which rather makes it a curio when you’re watching it. The problem is, most of the time you’re watching it wondering just what the hell is going on. Narrative is not Ben Wheatley’s strength, clearly, as evidenced on his earlier film A Field in England, another film I loathed. Like that film, this film seems to have its fans, but this s just not for me- I thought it was horrible.

Basically, its a hipster-arthouse film that is all style over substance, and fails to have any genuine coherence or narrative, simply glorifying in a great (wasted) cast and that 1970s aesthetic. I don’t mind ambiguity or ‘working’ at enjoying a film,  but I shouldn’t be watching a film wondering just what the hell is going on, or why nobody just simply leaves the bloody tower block when the shit hits the fan. Internal logic is not this films strength.

I ‘get’ that its all a social commentary, based on a book from 1975 , with the tower-block acting as a microcosm of society as author J G Ballard saw it at the time, but as the chaos ensues and the ‘society’ breaks down due to tower-block power-cuts and social conflict between the haves and the have-nots, the film is so intent on being clever and faithful (I presume) to the book that it fails to function as a proper film. Why are everybody such raving sociopaths? The rich and the poor alike just seem to degenerate into morally-bereft thugs, rapists and robbers.

Just why does nobody leave the building when everything falls apart (the outside world ticking by nicely)? Nominal ‘lead’ Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has an affair with one woman, then another, and doesn’t seem at all perturbed when his first lover is beaten and raped or his second enlisted as a slave to the ‘masters’ in the penthouse suites. No matter what bloody chaos ensues, the police never turn up. A guy throws himself off the building, women are brutalised and raped. Its like there is no law. Its all so very inconsistent and illogical.  Typical Ben Wheatley.

Frankly, Snowpiercer, a film that told pretty much the same story but replaced the tower block with a train, did it all so much better, and managed to tell a coherent and interesting story too. High Rise looks beautiful and has an at times arresting soundtrack (Abba’s SOS will never seem the same again) but its a horrible mess of a film.

Snowpiercer (2013)

snow22016.55: Snowpiercer (Blu-ray)

Well, this is more like it. Once you get over the implausible set-up (ahem: scientists trying to ‘cure’ Global Warming have plunged the Earth into a new Ice Age that has killed all life, the only remnants of humanity surviving on a train that circumvents the planet once a year), what remains is a very enjoyable fantasy, sort of like a Twilight Zone episode by way of Terry Gilliam. Full of metaphors for the human condition and the separation of the haves and have-nots of society (literally the rabble at the back, the elite at the front, so very British), it’s similar to the approach the 1960s Star Trek took with its allegories of real-world events and situations. Whether Snowpiercer really holds-up or just betrays the projects simplistic, comic-book roots is subject to some debate and depends on how much you are willing to go along for the (train) ride.

But of course that’s the problem- here in the UK we aren’t allowed to go for that ride, as the film is still officially unreleased over here- my copy being a Blu-ray from Australia. The film ran foul of studio executives and threatened recuts and was eventually through some kind of studio politics tit-for-tat subject to limited distribution. Its crazy that a film like this has yet to be released here- the film may have its faults but it clearly deserved much better, if only a belated straight-to-video release (which is the likeliest scenario now after so many years).

snow1So yes, to be clear, as the premise might suggest, it’s a bit daft, and I’m not going to suggest its some kind of genre classic suffering a monstrous injustice.  But it is very sincere and made with real conviction- it’s well-acted (Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris all in terrific form) with beautiful production values and an often charming, darkly witty script that rewards attention. Certainly it’s refreshing to find a genre film that -rather preposterous prologue notwithstanding- drops the viewer into its world with minor information, leaving  the viewer to discover what is going on and unravel the central mysteries/twists rather than be simply spoon-fed them. Consequently it’s best that the viewer watches the film with as little prior information as possible so I am reticent to progress further into spoiler territory, even for a film that was released back in 2013.

Its a silly situation really, and it must seem dumb to people in other territories who have had the film available for a few years now to the extent that the film is actually ‘old news’. Its like some kind of bizarre throwback to the old days when films would take years to be released across international territories, like us in the UK waiting six months or more for Jaws and Star Wars etc. But three years and counting? Thats some kind of tragedy really.

At any rate, while keeping details vague, I can easily recommend the film as worthy of going through the hoops needed to actually see it here in the UK. It’s surprising really that the presence of Chris Evans alone (considering the success of the Captain America films etc) hasn’t been enough to encourage a release for the film here yet, and considering the length of time that has passed now I suspect an eventual home video release is the best that might be expected. Surely most people curious about it have seen the film, like me, through other channels anyway. Is it actually possible it may never get released over here?  Thats a depressing thought considering whats playing over at my local multiplex now and getting released on disc this Monday. I mean, I’m not suggesting Snowpiercer is Citizen Kane or something, but this situation is making me wonder whats going on these days- its a crazy world when films like this get lost in some kind of limbo considering all the different distribution channels available now. Really, it’s all so 2016. What a bloody year.