The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
When certain genres become parodies of themselves there is some trepidation before viewing. The zombie film has become soaked in pop culture, permeating virtually every medium. This lands a challenge at the feet of Zombie For Sale; a challenge of simultaneously hitting the acceptable identifiers of a zombie film while carving out its own uniqueness. I am happy to say that Zombie For Sale rises to the occasion. What separates this South Korean film from the American zombie film sensibilities is the compulsion to show a humorous meta take on family and opportunity.
The rural setting is a fun turn this film brings right out of the gate. We’ve already seen the urban and suburban landscapes crawling with corpses walking around munching on all Samaritans (who never cease to remain oblivious until it is too late). The rural country provides the director, Lee Min-Jae, an opportunity to showcase the beautiful landscapes of South Korea that aren't skylines and smog. The slow setting doesn’t stifle the pace. This film, like all smart submissions in this genre, beats to the drum of family and progress. From the opening sequence to the end credits, Lee frames out the family dynamic of the Parks, exploring how they eat, work, and stress together. A lesser director would focus on the gore, explosions, and set pieces. Lee not only makes you want the Parks to win, but he adds you to their family.
The theme that is pumped through every zombie film, survival, is broadened here to mean more than just breathing air as a human by the end. The Parks run a failing gas station business in the country. They resort to sabotaging drivers’ tires on the road in order to provide quick roadside service. This leads to a bill of services for the repairs leveling off in the extortion range. This is how they survive. This family is fractured. The patriarch lives in a trailer, while his grown children absorb the daily responsibilities of running the business. The pregnant daughter-in-law and eldest son dubiously run the store front. The daughter is no-nonsense but harbors guilt, and the youngest son just got fired from his big job in the city. They rally together when a zombie comes barrelling into their lives (after humorously being chased by a dog). The family locks him up in the gas station garage and feeds him cabbages, deciding how to exploit their new discovery after Mr. Park gets accidentally bitten. Everything the family was assuming would happen next, as we’ve seen a hundred times at this point, doesn’t. The zombie bite wasn’t harmful. Instead, the old man begins to gradually age backwards giving him a spry and energetic soul. The family sees dollar signs. They see survival. Before long, a flock of old men pay up to get a sample of this new wonderful fountain of youth. They just need to submit to a zombie bite. This leads to a rather funny montage; the Parks bait our zombie friend to bite more with hot sauce applied right to the customer’s arm. I don’t think I can ever look at sriracha the same way again. The daughter Hae-Gul (Soo-kyung Lee) soon bonds with their pet zombie. He is given a name, a haircut, and a new wardrobe. A personality begins to grow in him as well. Once Mr. Park steals this new hard-earned money and absconds to Hawaii in the middle of the night, the family is frustrated to start over. The youngest son decides to take the show on the road to bring in revenue but is stopped short when reality sets in. Turns out that the zombie bites that Jjong-bi (the new moniker for their undead friend) doled out have a time-release. The happy side-effects wear off and the bitten customers take a hard turn into familiar zombie movie territory. I won’t give away much more at this point. Zombie For Sale steps into familiar (if not needed) zombie tropes to raise the stakes, while finding humorous and heartfelt ways to meet them.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
It is so easy to make a zombie movie with a paint-by-numbers approach. Mostly because they are populated with characters we’ve seen before. The burdened hero, the damsel, the smart person, the old person, the person no one takes seriously and the jerk character that exists to incite conflict. Zombie For Sale does not sidestep this completely. In some ways, we need those types of characters to create stress and urgency. While I still believe that the strength of this movie is the family dynamic that pulls together, it suffers a bit from familiarity. We still have characters that are smart and observant yet act like complete buffoons when danger is in their face. The dialogue is punchy and sharp and is limited when it needs to be.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
"...it is wonderful to see that there are still some surprises left...."
It would appear that if a budding make-up artist wanted to get their chops up, they should apply for the closest zombie film in production. The art and space of creating horrifying imagery and violence is indeed an art. Zombie For Sale, by contrast to its contemporaries and predecessors, is rather conservative with the buckets of blood and brains eaten. This is actually a strength of the film. We see just enough to know it happens, and we see a bit of what doesn’t happen -- which can sometimes be even scarier.
Zombie For Sale (2020) | ARROW VIDEO
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
There is a bouncy lilt in the film score here, and there should be. While this film is indeed a comedy bouncing working class hardships against a pending apocalypse à la Shaun of the Dead, this film doesn’t carry an overtone of witty sarcasm like Shaun. Instead, the score and sound carry an almost sitcom feel. Instead of western tones giving off a “life sucks, and then you die,” the audial atmosphere is “life sucks, and it will suck tomorrow too.” The latter gives off more hope.
When the credits rolled for Zombie For Sale, I was cheering. I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed a zombie film in such a long time. The notable exception would be another South Korean undead entry, the amazing Train to Busan. It is worth mentioning the meta nature of Sale again due to the brief cameo appearance Busan makes early in the first act. There were some wobbly parts here to be sure. I had some misgivings about a few clichés. Of course, there is a pregnant woman, or someone who hides that they've been bitten, or a deus ex machina to save the day. But the weight and heart of this film shines the brightest here when we see relationships forge and reforge again. Like I said, Sale is about family and opportunity. In a genre already explored so thoroughly, it is wonderful to see that there are still some surprises left.