Horror movies, and especially zombie apocalypse movies, rarely have much character development or a complex moral undertone. Characters in such films are usually one- or at most two-dimensional. There is little change to a character’s personality at the end of such a movie from how they begin.
To be fair, plots of horror movies are more focused on the chills and thrills rather than character development because that is what the audience in the majority has come to expect. And it is justified to a certain extent given the limited time the writers and director have. So, there is little mature drama involved. However, this is where Train to Busan differentiates itself.
Despite being a zombie apocalyptic movie, it takes the time to explore the development of a father-daughter relationship, portray the selfishness of modern society, demonstrate how fear can bring about the most despicable acts from humans, and in the end reveals that even the most selfish actions may have a human motive behind them.
Yes, Train to Busan does all this in 118 minutes of its run time. All the actors do a wonderful job in portraying their characters, whether it’s the workaholic father who has little time for his daughter, the daughter who dotes on her father but is usually left disappointed, two elderly sisters with opposite personalities, an expecting father who is a tough working class man willing to sacrifice himself for others, and a CEO who manipulates others to save himself. There is no over-the-top effort to entice a certain emotion toward a character. The acting is pretty realistic and every action or reaction by a character is understandable in a given circumstance.
Just looking at the description of the range of personalities I have mentioned above, you can tell each character is more than just another body to be chopped off, or in this case to be bitten. The fact that the movie manages to seamlessly integrate all these aspects into the fabric of the storyline wrapped in a blanket of the hungry, biting undead is commendable.
Talking about the zombies themselves, the special effects and make-up look top notch. Scenes in which hordes of zombies run and stumble over each other trying to attack the other passengers reminded me of the brilliant effects from the World War Z movie. The fact that the story mainly runs inside a train gives it a claustrophobic effect and adds to the scare. The camera shots are well done too. Not too many shaky camera bits which make it easier to appreciate the action that is going on.
Are there any over-the-top heroic moments? Yes, there are. This is a movie after all. But even those moments are acted out sensibly. Another aspect that makes this movie more engaging is the lack of guns. Unlike Hollywood zombie movies where every other person has a shotgun and is blowing up a corpse’s head, that is not the case here. So the characters have to resort to being resourceful with whatever is available. It takes a more realistic view of the situation rather than making everybody into either a gun-slinging cowboy or a whining victim.
All-in-all, the movie is very intelligently made. It forces you to love or hate a character but then also allows you to empathize with them because you can understand their motives. It has an intellectual undertone when it portrays how modern society has increasingly become more selfish and materialistic, and dips its toes into the darker side of the human psyche when faced with questions over survival, while at the same time engaging the audience in a gripping situation.
Train to Busan is a recommended movie to watch.