All Of Us Are Dead Series Review: 12-hour magnificent immersion into the undead world
With some terrific writing choices, unique ideas, and stellar performances, this Netflix series truly stands out in its genre
Some zombie apocalypse films, like Train To Busan, take the audience on a tour into its world. They explore the depravity caused by such a calamity through carefully constructed character arcs. Some films, like World War Z, bank majorly on the outlandishness and the grotesque of the situation itself to tell a riveting story. Netflix's All Of Us Are Dead tries to inherit the best of both worlds and even aims to improve on earlier attempts. In over 12 one-hour episodes, the series even goes on to find its own vein quite convincingly, something that even The Walking Dead has struggled to do every now and then.
Right from the first scene, there's an earnest attempt to exalt the ordinary. We see a bunch of teenagers beat up one of their classmates on a terrace. The victim's snarls and blood-red eyes hint that kid might become a zombie soon, and a magnificent drone shot steals the scene. It is only after a few episodes later on, do we realise why this sequence was pivotal. The subsequent shot shows a father helplessly looking over his ailing son - the boy who was bullied in the previous scene. He soon takes a bible, and instead of praying with it, he uses it in an attempt to kill. Much of what follows in All Of Us Are Dead is exponentially morose, unholy, and gruesome than what we see here.
Director: Lee Jae-kyoo, Kim Nam-su
Cast: Yoon Chan-young, Park Ji-hoo, Park Solomon, Cho Yi-hyun
Streaming on: Netflix
From the following shot, we are introduced to the students of Hyosan High School in Hyosan. These sequences are straight out of typical high-school dramas: we have Lee Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young) who has a crush on his classmate/neighbour Nam On-jo (Park Ji-hoo). On-jo, however, likes Lee Soo-hyuk (Park Solomon ), a former bully who is, in turn, love with Choi Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun), the quiet girl of the class who abhors her position as the class president. We also have a gang of bullies (key character being Yoon Gwi-nam, played by Yoo In-soo) and the bullied (Min Eun-ji, played by Oh Hye-soo). Tons of other characters also play their part.
Where the series stands out is in how it lets these seemingly ordinary characters develop unique character traits over the episodes, and in capturing their reactions to the catastrophe that follows. Even nicotine withdrawal and its effects on the mood of a person become a great idea to chew on. The show truly impresses with the splendid character arc that Eun-ji gets. She goes through emotions beyond what mortals can fathom! This happens, of course, due to another outstanding trick that the writers pull off in the middle of the series. Humans continuing to pose a bigger threat even as a zombie apocalypse rages isn't necessarily a novel theme to the screen. All Of Us Are Dead juxtaposes subplots dealing with these two threats—zombies and humans—and adds a third kind: "halfsies". We learn that the Jonah Virus that causes the outbreak can mutate and manipulate human consciousness to avoid its own detection. Due to this, some of the infected still have human consciousness, but they have no sense of pain, weakness, or fear. Simply put, they can even escape death. Interestingly, it is Eun-ji and Gwi-nam—the bully and the bullied—who gain this 'superpower', and how this plays out later is truly riveting.
While we continue to observe the events at ground zero, the story begins to slowly spread out—like the virus itself—to follow newer characters. A couple's quests to save their children, a firefighter's struggle to protect a politician, and a military general being forced to decide the fates of millions of people are a few of the many branches that stem out, and they do so without meddling with the high-tension events at the school. A story like this needed many of these pull aways, as it does get a bit too exhausting, or even claustrophobic, to see drama play out in closed spaces.
The writers also come with subtler ways to hold our interests. Be it an amusing message with the fact that the music room of the school has the least number of zombies because it is hardly used, or by nudging the futility of some human survival tactics in the catastrophe. Garnish all of these with humour or well-written drama, a 12-hour series seems quite easy to consume.
All Of Us Are Dead also manages to surprise us with its utility of negligible details. In fact, in retrospect, the drama it builds early on seems well-reasoned considering it pans out in unexpected ways later on. The cherry on the cake is the sequences where Lee Byeong-chan (Kim Byung-chul), the creator of the Jonah Virus, asks uncomfortable questions on the nature of the human condition. The final scenes of the series are nothing short of extraordinary either.
All Of Us Are Dead isn't without issues. A scene or two don't make sense for the overall scheme of things, a few fat jokes seem a bit too overstretched even for high school students, and archery students in this series need to take a lesson from The Walking Dead's Daryl Dixon on how to reuse arrows. But with a no-holds-barred approach to displaying gore, some stellar performances and great writing decisions, many of these mistakes become almost nonexistent in how one remembers this 12-hour immersion into an undead world.