Netflix’s late January release is giving ‘The Walking Dead’ a run for its money.
By: Yasmine Abdeldayem
Zombies have been stumbling their way through the entertainment scene for decades and even the most loyal lovers of gore have wondered if the groaning masses have already reached their peak in productions like “The Walking Dead” and “Train to Busan”.
Netflix’s late January release, “All of Us Are Dead”, puts that fear to rest in 12 engrossing episodes.
The first episode highlights the core students of the series in their mundane lives—particularly childhood friends Cheong-san and On-jo—mere hours before disaster strikes. High school crushes are brought to light and bullies batter down the outcasts—details that aren’t cast aside in the impending outbreak, but explored intimately in a world where death is quite literally around the corner.
Hyosan High School becomes ground zero after student Kim Hyeon-ju gets bitten by a lab rat and infected with the novel virus created by resident science teacher (and cynic) Lee Byeong-chan. The entire school, and soon the city beyond, falls to a siege of newly turned zombies.
The story finds its true place in the few safe spaces that remain for the miraculously uninfected students, as they attempt to do the increasingly impossible: survive.
As any zombie thriller worth its salt is bound to do, “All of Us Are Dead” devotes attention to the gruesome action—torn, bleeding flesh and all. Director Lee Jae-kyoo expertly maneuvers the visual intensity of the remaining students fighting against the hordes.
But in the mess of broken limbs and unidentifiable organs is the heart of the story: its teenage ensemble.
Hyosan High’s Class 2-5—or rather, what’s left of them—band together in barred-off classrooms.
The formula that follows is nothing that a seasoned consumer of zombie media wouldn’t expect: the survivors slowly discover that they’ve been abandoned by the authority, distrust takes root in the group, fingers are pointed, strategies precariously ensue. But its predictability is easily shrugged off, as viewers bear witness to the bond that blooms between the students.
The charm of the show is in the humanity exposed in the swarm of the undead—moments like Cheong-san pining after On-jo, as she crushes on the class delinquent, Su-hyeok, or the relationships that class president Nam-ra fosters in the outbreak, despite her previous reputation as the standoffish student with her head in the books, or the prejudices that viciously manifest in this fight for survival, particularly wealthy student Na-yeon’s distaste for Gyeong-su, a peer from a low-income family.
The Hyosan zombie outbreak is most prominently explored through the harrowing experiences of the students left behind, but the series does take the time to pan out to different perspectives throughout the city.
Beyond the school grounds, detective Song Jae-ik is tasked with preserving the knowledge of a potential cure for the outbreak. Firefighter Nam So-ju fights tooth and nail to reach his daughter, On-jo, even if he must push back against the hastily implemented martial law.
The adults that the core students are steadily losing faith in face problems of their own.
These shifts in storytelling perspectives are executed in a manner that illuminates the extent of Hyosan’s crisis, rather than leaving viewers feeling jarred.
The bleakness of an early pandemic is a notion that many of us have become uncomfortably familiar with. “All of Us Are Dead” navigates that sense of foreboding with the believable humor of its youthful ensemble and the hopeful outlooks they stubbornly cling to.
Characters aren’t quick to accept the possibility of no light at the end of the tunnel; they fight for even the slimmest chance that there is—and still make time to crack jokes.
One memorable side character was a social media influencer that trekked into Hyosan to live-stream the zombie outbreak for his skeptical followers. His supporting storyline was a silly nod to reality as we know it and ultimately, a moment for viewers to laugh between the survivors’ tense standoffs with the undead.
Even in its most heartbreaking moments, “All of Us Are Dead” is a transfixing watch. Its 12-hour runtime stretches the story to all its necessary limits, but leaves just enough room to wonder if the chaos in season 1 was only the beginning of Hyosan’s plight.
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