The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
There is something to be said about making a sequel that no one asks for. Either it is chasing the buck, tapping in on a cultural zeitgeist or truly believing that there is more story that needs to be told. Which one was the impetus for Peninsula, the sequel to the incredible 2016 zombie thriller Train to Busan? I wasn’t sure of the answer going into this movie. I feel like it's a bit of all three.
It is a big deal for an auteur to break their conventions and try something out of their established wheelhouse. Director Sang-ho Yeon has a filmography outside of this film and its predecessor that I have still yet to see. So, I risk speaking out of turn here. Where the intense action was indeed heavy in Busan, it buries the needle here in Peninsula. That is because Sang-ho Yeon takes bold risks and tries many new and fun things.
Peninsula takes place 4 years after the events of Train to Busan. Korea is ostensibly quarantined from the world. We have all new characters and a completely separate story.
Before we jump into the present, there is an opening scene during the immediate evacuation from when the outbreak initially began 4 years prior. It is here we meet two of the main characters, Jung Seok, a captain in the Korean military and his brother in law Chul-Min. They board a ship bound departing Korea for Japan that gets redirected to Hong Kong mid stream. During the trip, an infected person gets loose on board, killing Jung’s sister and her son, among others. It is during this sequence that we see that there are still people who make dumb decisions in zombie films.
We cut to 4 years later and now Jung Seok is a civilian. He's grungy, pissed off and is sporting long hair à la Keanu Reeves in John Wick (more on that later). He and his brother-in-law have mildly stayed in contact. He lives in Hong Kong and you can tell he isn’t as put together as he once was. The city of Busan, the city of Seoul, and the rest of Korea have all succumbed to the outbreak. There are no safe zones, it’s just a huge forgotten zombie-ridden land. The film’s namesake comes from the unification of Korea, which is in fact... a peninsula. Our two heroes and two others get recruited by a creepy American to go back into Korea. Their goal is to retrieve money out of a truck -- $20 million in US cash -- which this motley crew will all get a cut of. We’ve seen this many times before. A quick and dangerous job yielding a lifetime of reward. But unlike the vast amount of film examples I’ve seen of this trope, Peninsula made me eager to see the outcome here.
The team lands in Incheon via raft at night. This timing is important. You may remember from Train to Busan – spoilers – when it's dark and quiet, the zombies are calm, not aggressive and really just don’t know you are there. Jung Seok and company, armed with weapons and night-vision, swiftly find the truck with the money, but not all goes to plan. The dead truck driver still buckled in his seat gripping the wheel is actually a zombie. He attempts to attack Chul-Min in the most telegraphed undead assault I’ve seen in a long time. This leads to a bunch of noise, which subsequently leads to a lot of zombies homing in on their location. This spells lots of trouble for Jung Seok and his crew. Some of the group are killed as zombies arrive. Despite displaying exceptional marksmanship skills, Jung Seok and his brother in law cannot repel the entire horde and are split up. Chul-Min hides in the back of the truck with the money. Jung Seok gets picked up in a black SUV by two girls, who were watching the whole ordeal with the truck take place. The SUV driver is a teenager and the other is about 9 or 10. The teenager drives this SUV away from the scene and drifts the vehicle around turns smacking all kinds of zombies in the process. It was a fun scene, if not completely implausible. They take Jung Seok to their hideout where we meet the daughters’ mother and grandfather. We find out that this small group had left another larger group, a big military unit sent into Incheon years ago to clear the city. These soldiers just never got pulled out and deferred to scrounging and near lawlessness, essentially dissolving into a bunch of pirates. After the smoke clears from the initial rush of zombies, this pirate group materializes to find the truck full of money along with Chul-Min still inside.
From here on the movie takes many turns, all of which I found to be super satisfying. We meet many characters, all with different points of view and strained ethics, but who all want to get the hell out of Korea. There are many characters from the military unit that had a lot of spirit and uniqueness. Despite the precarious nature of their situation, there is still camaraderie and order among the ranks.
I won’t divulge what all happens next because there would be major spoilers if I did. But what I can say is that this movie has a completely separate tone from Busan. This is not a horror movie. Peninsula, end to end, is not scary. But also, it doesn’t try to be. The zombies at this point are just part of the backdrop. There are so many different flavors of cinema woven through this film. All of which march to the beat of a signature action film. There are brilliant gun fights, explosions, stand-offs and a thrilling car chase in the back half of the film. It was a good mix of Land of the Dead, Mad Max, Fast and the Furious and the aforementioned John Wick. This is purely an action film that occasionally edges the line of video game territory. But, you know, with zombies.
PENINSULA Stands Upright On Its Own Two Feet
TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA (2020)
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The heart of this story is the connections between all of the characters and ultimately the redemption of our hero, Jung Seok. There is a small flashback to the beginning of the movie that prompts this character arc, which if I’m being honest did feel a bit forced. There were some emotional scenes that I feel were trying to tap into the magic that Busan had with its emotional core. But the heart wrenching stuff here kind of dragged and I honestly wasn’t as invested as the film wanted me to be. Some of the weight of the tender moments landed, but most missed the mark.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I’m going to do my best to separate Busan and its successor, but it becomes difficult when there is such a high expectation. The score here isn’t as memorable as Busan, but it is composed nicely all the same. There are the emotional highs when the heartstrings start swinging and the high tempo staccato nails of music hit powerfully when the action revs up. The music here is not exactly remarkable, but it is more than serviceable.
The zombies here, with their cutaneous veins wrapping up their face, blood dripping from orifices, look terrifyingly awesome as always. A gripe I had about this film was that the zombies looked as fresh as they did in Busan when people first turned. It’s been four years and they still look like brand new zombies. I feel there could’ve been some lore explained at some point to cover this, or maybe shorten the time gap from 4 years down to a few months. But alas, it is what it is. Despite looking amazing, the implausibility of zero zombie deterioration took me a bit out of the story.
I will say that this film wraps everything up nicely. There isn’t a single thread that gets left dangling. Each character and plot line gets a satisfactory ending. For a zombie film, this plot is practically air-tight. While it isn’t as good as Busan (because how could it be?) it was definitely great for what it was -- an action-heist-rescue movie. There is amazing rewatch potential because there are so many parts that were flat out entertaining. In a genre already explored so thoroughly, Peninsula stands upright on its own two feet. This film straps down and surges forward, showing zombie films can still break new ground and look amazing while doing it.
TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA - Now On VOD