When the pandemic first hit, many flashed on “Contagion,” the 2011 thriller about a world-engulfing plague. Months later, zombie movies — which divide the world into crudely opposing camps — can seem more apt. In “Night of the Living Dead,” the 1968 George A. Romero film that set loose the zombie hordes, a man teases his sister about her fears. “They’re coming to get you,” he jokes right before a zombie staggers up, attacking him and sending the sister into a house that becomes her bunker.
The South Korean zombie movie “Peninsula” is a strange, preposterously resonant movie to watch now. Its scourge is an out-of-control catastrophe that ruins a country, leaving desperate citizen-survivors to fend for themselves. Like most zombie movies, it quickly turns into a cat-and-mouse chase with decaying flesh and a lot of chomp-chomp, bang-bang — with periodic nods at themes like family and community, the absence of the state and its possible substitute. It’s a bleak, sometimes ickily funny Manichaean vision in which only the savvy and heavily fortified stand a chance. Mostly, though, it is about living and killing, and more living and more killing.
The director Yeon Sang-ho is best known for “Train to Busan” (2016), which takes place largely on a high-speed train that gets scarier and more claustrophobic with each deadly bite. Part of that movie’s unnerving, nail-chomping fun is the ways it conforms to, and deviates from, the genre template: As is often the case, its pleasures are less why than how it goes down. To that end, Yeon makes especially inventive use of the train cars, turning them into individual tableaus or mini-movies, each with a different massing of bodies and kinetic-action splatters. As the zombies attack, the living scramble from car to car and on and off the train, ratcheting up the momentum.
Set primarily after the events in “Busan,” the bigger, baggier, less formally inventive “Peninsula” opens with a quick look back at the apocalypse’s inception. Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), a soldier, is driving his sister and her tiny family toward the safety of an evacuating ship. They board, but things go wrong, as they do on floating petri dishes. Four years later and Jung-seok is brooding in Hong Kong, where he now lives. Soon, a gangster taps him to return to South Korea where a truck filled with American cash waits, ripe for the plundering. It’s one of those impossible missions defined by greed and danger that goes inevitably — and, fingers crossed, spectacularly — wrong.
Source: NY Times – Review