So I watched Train to Busan presents: Peninsula (2020) last night and my exasperated sigh that began as the credits rolled has just about come to an end.
For those who don’t know, Train to Busan (2016) was a hugely successful south-Korean zombie flick from 2016, which made use of its tight £8.5 million budget to create, believe it or not, a unique and exciting entry into the world of modern zombie films. The film utilised strong direction, a cast including zombies played by dancers and contortionists, exhilarating action in a snowpiercer-esque limited setting and some genuinely emotional moments to engage critics the world over. Then, the one thing happened that nobody really wanted: Next Entertainment went and got sequel fever.
Train to Busan worked because of its limited setting and, dare I say, its limited budget. A common gripe with sequels of films like this is that they go “all Hollywood” and layer in as many computer-generated effects as they can over a rushed plot and basically try to crank every aspect up to eleven, many times missing the point of what made the original great and alienating those who appreciated it the most. That, sadly, is exactly what has happened here.
Train to Busan presents: Peninsula Has No Heart
Firstly, the heart of Train to Busan has been ripped out in Peninsula and replaced with one mechanical and unfeeling, one that tries desperately to imitate the organic beating of its predecessor while any right-minded viewer frowns at the blatant algorithms forming their emotional experience. Basically, the sentiment is so forced into Peninsula that it borders on emotional manipulation at several points, wherein the film may as well have held up title cards saying FEEL NOW rather than spend so much time lingering on mediocrely-portrayed anguish and cheap, oh so cheap misdirection. Without spoiling anything, I honestly wished they’d committed to the more tragic ending that was implied in the final scenes rather than backpedal in their inferral that we as viewers couldn’t handle it.
That being said, for the most part Peninsula knows what it is, and as a result is a fast-paced and often fun action movie. Much of the claustrophobic tension falls by the wayside for car chases and gunfights so heavy on CGI that one would be forgiven for thinking they’d wandered into Zack Snyder’s latest picture. Every time we are shown a crowd of zombies, which here serve more as fodder than a threat, at least half of them look superimposed or computer generated which, along with the borderline cartoonish style, can break immersion regularly. Some of the long-take action scenes are competently pulled off and enjoyable, even despite feeling a little derivative. Any scene in which a somehow-indestructible car mows down hundreds of computer-generated undead (which happens more than enough) is enough to draw an exasperated groan from anyone familiar with modern, high-budget zombie flicks.
Aside from a few unique ideas, such as twisted survivors throwing strays into their zombie arena to battle captured undead and a clever idea involving a little girl and her remote-control cars, a lot of Peninsula feels a little too familiar to justify its runtime. If they are indeed setting up a series of zombie films here then I hope they continue the variation in concept and boil things back down in an attempt at a more focused zombie flick. We all know the genre has more to give, if only those creating it could show enough restraint to remember what made zombies great in the first place.
Joe first knew he wanted to write in year six after plaguing his teacher’s dreams with a harrowing story of World War prisoners and an insidious ‘book of the dead’. Clearly infatuated with horror, and wearing his influences on his sleeve, he dabbled in some smaller pieces before starting work on his condensed sci-fi epic, System Reset in 2013.Once this was published he began work on many smaller horror stories and poems in bid to harness and connect with his own fears and passions and build on his craft.
Joe is obsessed with atmosphere and aesthetic, big concepts and even bigger senses of scale, feeding on cosmic horror of the deep sea and vastness of space and the emotions these can invoke. His main fixes within the dark arts include horror films, extreme metal music and the bleakest of poetry and science fiction literature.
He holds a deep respect for plot, creative flow and the context of art, and hopes to forge deeper connections between them around filmmakers dabbling in the dark and macabre.