Train to Busan presents: Peninsula (2020)

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Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

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. 

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We Are The Flesh – “The spirit doesn’t reside within the flesh; The spirit is the flesh!”

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Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

History is littered with questions as to the validity of extremism in art and media. Traditional English-speaking sensibilities all but protect us from the taboo-destroying underground world of experimental cinema, a place until now reserved for those who were prepared for a deep-dive into their local video rental store or, more recently, the internet. That being said, if I see that a horror film originated in the likes of France, Japan or Korea, to name a few, I know I may be in for a bit of a ride. At least I could be about to see something I had, through cultural linearity, never seen before. When I discovered Arrow Video’s release of We Are The Flesh (2016) promising an extreme and uninhibited French-Mexican horror experience, I was cautiously optimistic. 

Written and directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter, it’s a gleefully depraved slice of post-apocalyptic experimentalism. Beginning with a brother and sister (played by Diego Galamiel and María Evoli, respectively) discovering the makeshift lair of a primitive loner (Noé Hernández) after wandering a seemingly ruined city for ‘days’, the loner offers them refuge under his own, as of yet unknown conditions. Before long the ethos of this energetic stanger has leached fully into their minds, as well as our own, and from here We Are The Flesh consistently ups the ante until we’re sure we’ve seen it all. Displaying shockingly brash instances of sex, torture, murder and cannibalism, one would be forgiven for assuming that this is simply another exercise in shock horror and likely deserves the dreaded ‘Torture-Porn’ moniker. 

What Genre is We Are the Flesh?

The fact is, Minter’s directorial feature debut is far too intelligent to fall into such derogatory categories. The full commitment to its views, monologued with gusto by Hernández, completely backs the primordial hedonism to follow. As he bangs his drum and screams of deep phenomenology and the freedom of primitive chaos, viewers can’t help but be sucked into his words, nodding along and cheering for things that would have otherwise disgusted them. The core themes of his diatribes being isolation and the liberation it has afforded him, these matters could not be more apt for times like these. Rather than condemn his seclusion, he describes its effects with violently joyous energy. He speaks lovingly of mankind’s dual and savage nature as beasts who only suppress their most ancient of instincts, urging his new acquaintances to do away with the thin frameworks of moral decency that only other people held in front of them.  

“The spirit doesn’t reside within the flesh; The spirit is the flesh!”

The storytelling is vague and often confusing. The destruction of the outside world is only hinted at by the state of the converted apartment block the characters reside in. Many elements are implied and only fall into place in the final moments leading to an ending that makes any right-minded viewer question everything they have seen, their own values, and likely those of the entire human race. This is the essence of experimental horror.

Shock or Thought Provoking Imagery, Maybe Both?

We are the flesh horror movie poster featuring a person in a war helmet and tank top

We Are The Flesh left a hell of an impression on me; the type you sit and ponder for a time, probably long after the credits roll. While a lot of people won’t make it to that point, and some may even react negatively at being shown such an uncompromising film. But that’s where the true point of cinema like this lies, for me anyway. If someone becomes joyous or angry or upset at what they see then they’re making a decision on it; for better or worse it has made them think. Either we reject the new and strange ideas being shown to us or we embrace them for all of their gleeful depravity. These long, unbroken scenes of increasingly bizarre, deviant sex and violence will unnerve even seasoned horror fans and, elite as it may sound, only those with the capacity and intent to soak in the true meanings behind the insanity will gain anything from their viewing. If Hernández chanting, flapping his arms like a bird and appearing like something between Gollum and Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet (1986) doesn’t spark at some primitive charge in your brain then what follows will only deepen your confusion. 

Through focused cinematography, blistering intelligence and chilling commitment to performances, We Are The Flesh is one of the finer experimental horror films I have subjected myself to. While appreciators of this type of art remain in the few, this is one of the more accomplished pieces of work that could take its shameless style to a wider audience. That being said, I won’t be recommending it to any family members. 

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