Jen’s October Flicks: Train to Busan

This October, we’re trying something different. From October 2nd to the 31st, Jen will be writing up horror movie recommendations on a daily basis. The selection will weave between well-worn classics and the smaller fare, but they’re all special in their own way. If you watch one and want to let her know what you think (or judge her taste in films), you can find her on Twitter at @jbu3.

Well, I promised I’d get to something that’s more widely available than my previous picks, and here we are! Train to Busan only released last year, but its swift pace and earnestness left quite an impression on me. It revolves around Seok-woo, a divorced South Korean trader who leaves little time in his life for his daughter. After missing her recent school recital (a let-down that left her crying in front of the class), he hesitantly agrees to take her on a short trip to Busan, where her mother currently resides. The trip seems to be going well until a few panicked, last-minute passengers make their way onto the train: they’re fleeing from an in-process zombie outbreak, but despite their best efforts, their moving fortress soon plays double duty as shelter and hazard.

Train to Busan has plenty of close calls and setpiece moments, but it really shines when it pits the selfish against the selfless. Seok-woo is self-preservationist to a fault, needlessly putting others’ lives in danger to meet his inaccurate “us or them” calculus. If it weren’t for his compassionate daughter, I don’t doubt that he would be on the top of every survivor’s shit-list. But as he grows closer to a good-natured couple and helps them save others, he finds himself in the crosshairs of an even bigger selfish prick, determined to paint them as a threat whenever possible. Seok-woo is simultaneously humbled by his companions and given a first-hand taste of his own cruelty.

Sadly, becoming a better person doesn’t necessarily make you better-suited to overcome an ongoing disaster. In Train to Busan, few are spared: the burliest, most kind-hearted survivor in the group faces one of the cruelest fates, while the staunch preservationists in the back of the train find themselves in an ugly predicament with little hope for escape. The passengers are given room to atone, but the locomotive and its mindless invaders care little for any change of hearts or heroic actions. Yeon Sang-ho’s condensed masterpiece asks the audience to see the intrinsic value of a kind heart, even if it gets eaten alive with the rest at the end of the day.

Train to Busan is available on Netflix, along with the usual suspects like Amazon and iTunes.