Korea’s latest awesome contribution to apocalyptic horror is ALL OF US ARE DEAD (Netflix), a series about a group of high school students struggling to survive a zombie apocalypse that starts at their school. I went into it warily, expecting it to be YA but not in a good way, and was pleasantly surprised. Wowed, in fact, with me thinking this just might be the best TV series I’ve ever seen with zombies that wasn’t a comedy.
In a high school in a small city in Korea, a student accidentally becomes infected with a virus designed to increase aggression. (What this virus is and why it’s there is explained as the story develops.) The outbreak snowballs across the school and the city at large, resulting in the Army being called in to quarantine it all while managing tens of thousands of refugees. Stuck at ground zero is a few small groups of students, most of them likeable and kids we can root for, some of them hateable villains. What follows is a nonstop, horrific struggle to survive and hopefully escape.
As far as zombies go, they’re the usual rabid runners a la TRAIN TO BUSAN, and the virus is evolving, promising some surprises. When they first start to spread across the school and city, the action is incredible, and the zombies are genuinely scary. The zombies aren’t as important, however, as the human characters are, how they respond to the crisis, how they pull together or fall apart, who survives and who dies. The show is brutal; not everybody is going to make it, though some who die do so with what has to be some of the most badass sacrifices I’ve seen on television.
One of the things I liked most about the show was its attention to realism. A lot of dialogue, character change, and screen time is devoted to the kids trying to figure out what to do next based on available options and then doing it, with every step they take dogged by horrific obstacles and sometimes shadowed by the dynamics of their high school relationships, which they slowly shed as they realize how unimportant all that stuff was in the face of the current threat. Over time, they realistically fuse into a tribe. There is a little philosophy, like why live after you’ve lost everything, but mostly tough ethics, such as what to do if your best friend is hurt and therefore might turn into a zombie and threaten everybody. Most of the action is devoted to surviving the next few hours with courage and homegrown ingenuity, which culminates in a series of incredible set pieces.
Oddly, this strength is also fodder for a criticism of the show, which is its twelve episodes could have been easily shortened to maybe ten by cutting some of its repetitiousness. But no matter, overall, I loved ALL OF US ARE DEAD pretty much from start to finish. If you enjoy good stories with zombie mayhem and apocalypse, you’ll probably love it.