Horror Bites - Meat Train


It takes something a little more out there to get me interested in yet another zombie film these days, beyond just making them run around like rabid lunatics again or having the setting be something mildly novel like a train. In this case things did seem to be looking up, with an emphasis on adrenalin fuelled chases and claustrophobic passenger compartments instead of the usual focus on bloody effects. I was certainly interested to see how a Korean take on the genre would pan out and what outlandish elements might be introduced outside of Hollywood. However a few too many of the old clich├ęs have been retained along the way.

The story follows a variety of stock characters as they try and escape a mysterious epidemic via the KTX to Busan, a last safe haven after containment measures have failed in other cities. Soon it becomes obvious that one of the passengers has a rather nasty looking injury and is going through some unusual symptoms. Meanwhile there's a pregnant lady and her husband, a couple of elderly women, a rude businessman and a team of young boys on their way to play baseball. The central characters however are a workaholic dad (Gong Yoo) and his young daughter (Kim Su-an) who are on their way to visit her mother.

None of this is particularly inspiring stuff, and you can guess that the usual tropes unfold. No prizes for predicting that a child in peril will not be wounded at all along the way, or that certain selfish survivors will cause more trouble than the undead hordes as things go bad. Most of the time it plays out as expected and these thinly drawn characters go through the motions. Weak company employees try and keep everyone in line, wealthy customers are callous, and young romance blossoms where required.

The elements that do feel a lot fresher are the action beats and the way that the zombies are utilised. They're particularly energetic, perhaps like something from an animated feature or a comic story. The messy hair and white eyeballs are a nice touch. Heads twitch and jaws chatter, and of course they run at a considerable speed. It's manic and colourful. Although while things are certainly not geared towards atmospheric sequences, there is a nice set piece in which the protagonists have to crawl over the baggage spaces to avoid the zombies who appear sedate when the train enters the darkness of a tunnel. But most of the time it's all running, all biting, all the time - the mismatched band of heroes often have to punch faces and snap necks to get through. The infected break through doors and windows, often pouring through like a writhing mass of bodies.

It's far more effective than the same style of outbreak spectacle found in World War Z which was far too overblown far less convincing. Here it's more restrained while offering a certain kinetic visual style to everything. One instance during the finale where a kind of zombie pile up begins to hold itself together might be a bit much, but generally speaking it adds a great amount of energy and dramatic urgency to the proceedings. The pacing overall is rather less effective unfortunately, particularly when they keep returning to the same groups of people having melodramatic discussions playing out trite character arcs.

They also get off the train far too often, which is kind of confusing when the whole setup for the story was a small scale, enclosed series of events. They split up, go into stations, get back on trains, get into different trains - it stops and stalls quite often and starts to drag about half way through. By the time things literally go off the rails it becomes more tiring than thrilling, which is kind of a shame. Losing 25 minutes or so would have made this all tighter and more dramatic, particularly during the extended ending that should have been cut short. Ultimately it does deliver in terms of horror fun, and fans of this kind of thing will be satisfied. But there are some set backs along the way and the momentum would have been far greater if things were kept on track.