In 2010, the people of Seoul, South Korea fight a virus that threatens to infect the planet.
By and large, the American movie-going public is pretty much over zombies. The undead apocalypse trend was a mighty force in the mid-2000s consumerist culture, being relevant what with all our wars and recessions and such. For a while there, it seemed we were all just waiting for the headline that would shatter societal rules and give us justification in poring over The Zombie Survival Guide. But soon enough, the blockbusters started going stale, The Walking Dead got really boring, and even the subversive take on the zombie movie became an onslaught of dark comedies that had little to say outside of the cheekiness of their premise. Eventually we all just sort of shrugged and said, “Well, at least George Romero did it right.”
Zombies as a subgenre have never particularly been a favorite of mine, only because many seem more enamored with popping dead heads than venturing into the human side of things. What is interesting, however, is the Average Joe vs. The Apocalypse. Military proceedings, government cover ups, hailing bullets and hissing undead…these things hold little for me aside from set dressing. Ultimately, we want to see ourselves on the silver screen, and there is very little for the average cubicle worker to relate to in the likes of Daryl Dixon (aside from edgelord fantasy). If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’d most likely hole up somewhere safe, have a nice cold pint, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.
The Neighbor Zombie is an anthology film, the six stories framed by the cataclysmic event of an AIDS vaccine gone berserk and kickstarting the zombie apocalypse. The first story, more of a prologue, is called “Crack,” where we witness a reclusive toy collector in his last moments before succumbing to the virus. Next is “Run Away,” where two lovers resolve to stay together even as the disease ravages their bodies. “Mother I Love You” depicts a daughter willing to do anything to save her sick mother. “Age of the Vaccine” shows the accidental creator of the virus trying to make up for his mistakes.
“After That, I’m So Sorry” takes place months later when the world is somewhat normal again, with a recovering ex-zombie attempting to get his life back together. Finally, the epilogue, called “Pain Killer” shows a man feverishly trying to make the deadline for his manuscript of zombie research.
As previously mentioned, zombie stories are (pardon the pun) done to death, and I figured I knew what I was in for with this film. If it wasn’t a shoot-em-up like the Romero ripoffs or a gritty smash-blam-pow horrorshow like 28 Days Later, it would be a satire that would be way too impressed with its own one-joke idea. But it is wonderful feeling when a movie surprises you, and even better when that surprise moves you to tears. That’s right, this zombie flick moved me.
While all of the stories have their merits, “Mother I Love You” and “After That, I’m So Sorry” are the strongest points and the combined heart of the film. “Mother” was especially gutting for me, since I am very close to my own mother and could absolutely see myself sacrificing everything to take care of her, even as she turned into a monster. “After That” is a take on the “everyday zombie” that isn’t as snarky or self-satisfied as other versions of this theme, leaning more toward the harsh realities of prejudice and addiction. There is a scene depicting a sort of “Zombies Anonymous” meeting between a few guys who discuss their ongoing health issues and difficulties finding work, which is a nice touch in itself, but also helps bring that whole AIDS vaccine thing full circle.
The Neighbor Zombie was released in South Korea in 2009, the same year that the US had our big splashy shot in the arm to the walking dead, Zombieland. That movie takes a distinctly “American” approach, with shotguns and Hummers and anal-retentive lists, with the inspiring message that even a loser can rise to greatness (under the right circumstances), and has sadly not aged very well.
The Neighbor Zombie is much grimmer and much more honest, with great regard for the miserable and insanely humbling experience of living through the fall of society. There are no great heroes in this movie, no badasses with crossbows or machetes…only regular people trying their best to survive.