This short post contains _some_ spoilers for Train to Busan and 28 Days Later. If you haven’t watched Train to Busan, I strongly recommend that you stop reading if you want to enjoy the movie experience blind.
Zombie movies, or at least the genre, are very predictable. Infection that causes undeath is discovered. Undead rise up to attack the living. Society breaks down and survivors flee the zombies looking for safe sanctuary. Lots of characters die and get turned to zombies. Climatic finale is set up where the survivors have to make a last stand against a horde of undead.
The key to keeping the audience hooked then, is to have strong, believable characters that they can emphatise with. Engaging characters that can also get bitten or die at any moment without warning. You could also try to be creative, and place the survivors in a setting that hasn’t really been used before.
When I think about “zombies on a train” the only thing that comes to mind is the opening of Resident Evil 0, a videogame. I don’t think any zombie film (correct me if I’m wrong) has used trains as their main setting. The claustrophobia and narrow confines of the trains makes one of Train to Busan’s set-pieces – where the three male protagonists have to fight their way through several train cars using just their fists and melee weapons – believable and entertaining. Busan’s zombies have near-blindness in the dark, but are still sensitive to sound, perhaps an ode to the late-stage Infected from The Last of Us.
Many zombie fans attribute 28 Days Later (2002) for reinvigorating the zombie genre with their “fast zombies”. The agile types that can sprint almost as fast as Usain Bolt and leap across obstacles. What I didn’t like about that movie was its horrible second-half. The frenetic, opening hour of 28 Days was ground to a halt by the military base arc that completely killed the film’s momentum. Train to Busan, in my opinion, is 28 Days Later finally done right. Fast zombies, emotional character development, themes about the darkness of humanity, a grand finale, AND a proper ending filled with both gloom and hope. From South Korea of all places.
Maybe this is a sign for me to finally start learning Korean.