It seems that cinephiles worldwide can’t get enough of zombies these days. Vampires too, but I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the attraction to zombies. After all, they are undead creatures who have no cognitive functions and eat brains. There is no romance there. As such, the vast majority of zombie movies these days are highly unoriginal affairs. Thankfully, the great new wave of Korean cinema brings a refreshing take on the sub-genre with an anthology of shorts based on the same fake historical event.
The premise of each film is that in the early 21st century a scientist came up with a vaccine for AIDS. Rather than put it through long but necessary tests, corporations rushed the vaccine to the market. And while it might have protected against AIDS, it also caused a zombie virus which swept the world. The directors tell several different stories in a kind of chronology, each with different characters and different perspectives on what such a situation (a zombie virus) would mean to ordinary people. At the beginning of the outbreak, a reclusive computer nerd is attacked by an invisible entity and begins to find himself rather tasty. In the middle of the chaos, as neighbor turns against neighbor, a young couple tries to cope with the man’s slow transformation into a zombie, and if their love can survive, à la Twilight; and a young woman gives of herself literally to keep her zombie mother alive. Towards the end, as a possible cure is discovered, one man tries to make up for apparent wrong-doing that might have caused the outbreak, and others find an illicit high and superpowers come from ingesting zombie blood. And in possibly the most poignant of the shorts, a young man who was once a zombie finds discrimination even though he is now cured.
The strength of each story is its tight focus on its specific subject matter. The tight focus allows for more allegorical interpretations of the zombie virus: how we engage with the outside world, the power of love, the power of addiction, the need for atonement, and the stigma of disease. They range in style from comedy to drama to some serious zombie action (apparently, one director is of the “zombies can move really fast” school of thought.) While not each film is entirely successful, they work together quite seamlessly. Survival becomes a matter of trust in your fellow humans, and when that trust is broken or missing, the real trouble begins. Neighbor Zombie is a welcome addition to a rather stale genre.