Did I board the Train to Busan or wake up 28 Days Later? Writer/director David Marantz’s Alive spins a story of loyalty, friendship, and low-key intrigue in a different view of an infested zombie world. The zombies are not the stars. It’s the people that populate this place, in this case, a well-chosen group of actors. Not to be left out, there is gore in terms of blood, flesh-eating, limbs that get manually severed, and shotgun blasts to keep the interest up.
Alive opens during a zombie apocalypse with a quiet moment in a fertility clinic where an inconceivable verdict is given. Humankind is facing extinction on two fronts. The film moves to a teacher being told she must use the “approved pamphlet” in her class to speak of sanitation stations and infection prevention, which sets up the state of the world. Helen (Ellen Hillman), her boyfriend Kevin (Kian Pritchard), and her little brother Barney (Andrew May-Gohrey and Daniel May-Gohrey) are fleeing that hellscape to an island to escape the undead hordes. The family has a run-in with zombies who just stare at them from across a river.
The family is taken in at first by Dan (Neil Sheffield), the dour rife toting survivalist who hunts game for his zombie-turned-wife. Then they stumbled across a religious cult led by Father Mathews (Stuart Mathews). He tries the make Helen, Kevin, and Barney part of their quest to reach the “valley.” The way to the “valley” must be shown by a “woman of childbearing age.” So Ellen is the reluctant candidate.
“…Barney becomes infected and could turn at any time. Helen’s loyalty prevents her from killing her brother…”
There’s plenty of tension in Alive, as Helen’s family and the cult do not see their goals as the same. Unfortunately, Barney becomes infected and could turn at any time. Helen’s loyalty prevents her from killing her brother, as everyone’s hoping for a cure. But he begins to show flesh-rotting symptoms more and more, requiring secret feedings of animal flesh. Zombie chases with monsters in minimal yet effective makeup ensue. These creatures kill and eat, with most of the visual action implied via the slurping and crunching audio.
The real stars are the principal actors. These are literally everyday people in extraordinary circumstances trying to cope. The situations in the film are not new to the genre, yet are dealt with logically without the need for huge effects. This is a character-driven story with elements of gore and poignancy. The human hope for a cure and the personal agony of a loved one infected with a terminal disease is explored when Barney becomes a zombie and is cared for by Dan’s already totally infected wife, Olivia (Helen Coathup), in the attic.
Alive is well written with a pace slower than the smash bang entrail of most zombie films. The pace opens us to the characters, showing their interaction and pain. It also highlights the small terrors of living in such a situation. The action does heat up with gun battles, charging monsters, attempted suicide, mass deaths, and the madness of two groups on a collision course with each other. Famously Rick Blaine quipped, “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Marantz gives three people that show us just the opposite.
"…a character-driven story with elements of gore and poignancy."