EIFF 2016: Seoul Station & The ReZort
Zombie fever is catching at this year’s EIFF with two distinct strains of horror emerging from Sang-yo Heon’s Korean animation Seoul Station and Steve Barker’s live action The ReZort
Seoul Station (★★★)
Korean animation Seoul Station chronicles a zombie outbreak starting among the city’s most disenfranchised residents, the homeless who take shelter in the eponymous train station, as it unfolds over the course of one sweltering summer’s eve. Runaway teenager Hyun-Suen is on the brink of losing her rented squat, which she shares with her lowlife boyfriend, who's as pathetic and immature as he is abusive. Failing to find gainful employment for rent money, he turns cyber pimp, placing an ad online before begging Hyun-Suen to prostitute herself, beating and disowning her when she refuses. Hyun-Suen's father, who has been desperately searching for his daughter, answers the ad and on meeting her loathsome boyfriend, sets out to find her. Little does he realise the rapidly spreading virus and the Korean government’s declaration of martial law stand between him and his little girl.
Heon’s film starts as a damning indictment of Korean society, in which almost all characters are disenfranchised in some way, and desperately in need, pick on those more vulnerable than themselves and/or implore indifferent authority figures to help them. Begging, they cite their worthiness as patriotic citizens, national service being mandatory in Korea, and lament their government’s indifference to their suffering. In his depiction of Seoul’s social turmoil, Heon ingeniously makes a zombie apocalypse look like the natural progression of a society already rotten and diseased to its core. It’s this brilliance of storytelling that makes Seoul’s Station’s flaws so hard to bear – an unevenness in tone and a dramatic twist late on make for a darkly comic denouement that seems to belong in an entirely different film altogether.
Seoul Station screens at Cineworld 24 Jun, 8.35pm
Whilst the 'z' word is staunchly avoided in Seoul Station, Steve Barker’s The ReZort is an out, loud and proud gore-filled zombie flick, cleverly referencing its own narrative style – film as rollercoaster ride and first person shooter – through its unique twist on the genre, the 'rezort' of the title being a giant safari island with zombies as game (think Jurassic Park with zombies instead of dinosaurs).
Set in the post-apocalypse humanity having won the war against zombies, the Rezort is a place where the rich can shoot up zombies for fun or zombie-related PTSD therapy, as is the case with our survivor protagonist Melanie (Jessica De Gouw.) At first this seems like a riotous, ultraviolent good time, as the multi-millionaire entrepreneurial mastermind behind the Rezort (Claire Goose), explains: 'Every apocalypse deserves an afterparty.' The only downer being the human refugees of the war taking refuge on a camp just outside of the Rezort, and the small matter of whether or not it is ethical to chain up, display and hunt zombies left over from the apocalypse for human amusement and profit.
Melanie is joined by a rag-tag team of hunters. There’s her seemingly supportive boyfriend; a mysterious expert marksman; a jilted bride suspiciously reluctant to shoot zombies; and two teenage gamers, with Jassa Ahluwalia reprising his role from BBC Three’s Some Girls providing much needed comic relief. When a cyber virus causes the security of the park to malfunction, the simulated danger suddenly becomes real and the crew are left to shoot their way out.
Beyond being a fun, scary horror romp, The ReZort’s strength lies in its interesting take on the undead, interrogating what is and what’s not human, inverting the usual zombie conceit of the living having to accept that their fellow man are zombified, no longer human and thus ripe for annihilation. The ReZort switches this dynamic through its setting of zombie safari and its depiction of the undead. Typical zombie gurgling sounds like attempted language, zombies are capable of memory and limited intelligence, and they suffer at the hands of cruel handlers.
Where the film falls down is with its grappling with contemporary right-wing rhetoric around the refugee crisis being like a 'plague' on Europe. It's an admirable stance, but it leads to some unconvincing late-in-the-day proselytising from Melanie, which detracts from an otherwise enjoyable and clever narrative.
The ReZort screens at Filmhouse, 17 Jun, 11.25pm & Cineworld, 18 Jun, 8.25pm
EIFF runs 15-26 Jun http://edfilmfest.org.uk