My Top 20 Scares of 2020: #2

Today’s pick holds a special place in my heart for being the first and only zombie film to ever make me cry actual tears. Zombie movies tend to deliver solid gross-outs and occasional social commentary, but pathos isn’t something I generally expect to experience. Enter my #2 favorite film of 2020:

#2. TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

(c) TRAIN TO BUSAN 2016.

When I initially reviewed this film on IG early in the pandemic my first impression was that TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) is a perfect film. My considered opinion isn’t much different.

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, TRAIN TO BUSAN is a South Korean action horror that follows workaholic Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) on a train ride from Seoul to Busan with his small daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim). But there are zombies on the train! After a variety of mishaps, survivors end up clustered separately in the front and rear cars. In the back are Seok-woo, a baseball player, and rude guy with a heart of gold, Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok). In the front are Soo-an, the baseball player’s girlfriend, Sang-hwa’s pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi), super rich dude Yon-suk (Eui-sung Kim), and a bunch of dumb plebs who do whatever Yon-suk says. The dudes in the back fight and sneak their way through train cars full of zombies all the way to the front, only for Yon-suk to convince everyone to barricade the doors against Seok-woo & co. because they might be infected. Chaos ensues and Yon-suk has the opportunity to kill more people before he finally gets chomped by zombies, as he so deeply deserves. Then more stuff happens. I won’t spoil it.

The only thing that could have made this movie more perfect would be better representation of women. You might be tired of hearing me say that by now, and boy am I tired of having to say it. BUSAN is far from the most egregious offender but the women in general are inactive and exist relative to male characters. I don’t feel like dwelling on that, because there’s so much good to talk about! Here is some good:

In TRAIN TO BUSAN the anxiety is high and the gross-outs are many! I was truly terrified through the majority of this movie, and there were plenty of jump scares and uncanny yucks. On top of that, there are a bunch of fun jokes.

They are literally locked in a bathroom with zombies right outside. This is the best movie. (c) TRAIN TO BUSAN 2016.

On top of all that delightfulness, there’s also an actual human story. Seok-woo has a nicely-crafted fatherhood redemption arc that takes him from absent father figure to action hero in a surprisingly believable way. Seok-woo’s workaholic tendencies are a clear offshoot of his desire to take care of his kid (financially! You know, like dad’s do? Sometime I will write a post discussing how every movie about a dad is actually about masculinity). The movie takes enough care to show both sides of the issue: on the one hand the neglect is motivated by love, on the other hand, it’s still neglect you dumb jerk!

What really catapults BUSAN to excellence for me is the classic anti-rich horror moral. The worst villain in the film isn’t the zombies: it’s Yon-suk, who puts people in danger time and again in an effort to save his own worthless skin. There was nothing more satisfying than watching this dude cry for his mom while he died and I highly recommend the experience as an antidote to reading about the current activities of the US Senate. Just pretend Yon-suk is named “Mitch,” sit back, and smile.

How Did It Score
  • How scary was it?4.5/5
  • How memorable was it? 4/5
  • Was it a Quality film? 5/5
    • Full points for an excellent use of genre to deliver equal parts terror and emotional punch, and for one of my all-time most beloved recurring horror morals: Eat the Rich or They Will Sacrifice Every Single Person to the Ravenous Horde.
  • How about those women? 2/5
    • Here is how TRAIN TO BUSAN scores on each of the gender tests:
      • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass.
      • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass. Barely. There are exactly two instances I can identify where a woman actively does something.
      • Willis Test: Fail
        • Countless instances of men interacting with women involve the men lamp-ifying the women. I mean ‘protecting’ them.
      • Ko Test: Exempt, for the same reasons as my #20 favorite film A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003).
      • Roxane Gay Test: Fail because the main character(s) are all men and none of the women get close to the men in terms of complexity.
      • Carie-Burns Test: Fail. Technically the last two characters are female but one of them is the child, Soo-an, who does not pass the lamp/cat test. Soo-an is basically a very cute and valuable night light with a post-it on it that says “go to Busan.”
  • Bonus: 1
    • For the duct-tape-armor/baseball bat zombie murder sequence.
  • Total points: 16.5/20

Published by Brandy N. Carie

Playwright. Director. Producer. Feminist Takes on Horror Films.

3 thoughts on “My Top 20 Scares of 2020: #2

    1. The entire baseball team is epic!
      I have to say I didn’t really notice the opacity of glass. Possibly time for a rewatch?


      1. I mean, this is definitely a movie worth rewatching.
        The first time they realize the zombies calm down when they can’t see humans, they cover the window with improvised newspaper paper mache (brilliant). They could have just recycled that device every single time they get into a train car, and it would have felt very procedural and video game like. Instead, we keep getting new ways for the zombies to not see through the windows (frosting them with fire extinguishers, having them smeared with blood, tunnel darkness) which keeps everything feeling fresh!

        Liked by 1 person

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