Train to Busan
I never thought I would get to a point where I am writing about how tired I am of the Zombie film- it’s a fad that has sort of hit a downward slide and overexposure is leading to burn out on the creature as a viable threat in horror films. So, despite rave reviews, I didn’t see much point in checking out Train to Busan- except the reviews got louder and the raving almost became a mantra and this year has seen a bizarre dirge in horror film-making. So when I caught an opportunity to catch the train, I hopped on board and figured it couldn’t be an awful ride. So let me get to the quick of it-
On the early morning of her birthday, a young girl is accompanied to Busan by her work-a-holic father who rarely seems to have time to be a father. The train has several notable characters- including an expecting husband and wife couple, a homeless man, a high school baseball team and their friends, the COO of a major corporation, two aging sisters, and a partridge in a pair tree. (joke) But in all seriousness, the characters find themselves trapped on the train when the virus breaks out and it almost immediately begins to devour occupants of the train itself. Our zombies are World War Z speed monkeys and they swarm with a feral hunger. Victims don’t linger in the film- they’re turn isn’t quite the eleven seconds of WWZ, but it doesn’t take very long at all for the virus to take effect. And combining elements of a disaster film with the swarming threat of the undead works as a fulcrum in which to tell other stories- Train to Busan utilizes the threat as a metaphor to tackle issues of parenthood, class warfare, desperation, sacrifice, and how civilized people behave when the threat is suddenly very real and very present. Train to Busan shares much more in common with “The Poseidon Adventure” than it does with “Night of the Living Dead” .
Visually, the film is absolutely stunning and delivers some truly creepy scares. The film also takes place in the daytime, so this is horror in the day- the light, in fact, may be a greater danger than anything the shadows may hide. The film plays a little with an occasional stereotype, but no one in the film behaves in a manner that is truly nonsensical- mistakes are made and they are organic to the story. The zombie swarms are impressive, especially in one key moment where separate crowds of the nasties collide and pile over like a giant wave.
8.5 out of 10.
Kubo and the Two Strings
The people responsible for Coraline and Para-Norman (LAIKA) are back once again with this stop motion feature featuring Charlize Theron and an almost unrecognizable Matthew McConaughey. Art Parkinson lends his voice to the titular character, a boy hiding from his god-like grandfather, the King of the Moon (Ralph Fiennes). He makes his way through the world by telling stories with his magical shamisen and an extraordinary ability with paper. “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.” These are the opening words to the film and they are as true as they are captivating- Kubo faces monsters, demons, and his own uncertainty in a traditional hero quest that his him seeking the instruments for his success.
Like LAIKA’s previous entries, this film is rich with imagery and story. So rich that it’s hard to discuss without spoiling a vast majority of the film- suffice to say that Kubo’s allies include a toy monkey brought to life through magic and a cursed samurai given the body of a beetle. Each of them is on a quest of their own, aiding Kubo along the way in unique ways and allowing Kubo to grow as a character and person. It’s at once heartbreaking and uplifting. Much like Para-Norman, the film tends to defy genre simplicity and spends less time referencing pop-culture than many “children’s” films in this day and age. Save for one cameo, the film relies on its own world-building for the humor and explores a Eastern story motifs with family, loss, tradition, and humanity.
9 out of 10.