All of Us Are Dead is packed to the gills with full-blown zombie mayhem

If it’s zombie carnage you’re after, it’s zombie carnage you’ll get from Netflix’s gnarly new Korean horror show. Here’s Luke Buckmaster’s review.

Now that film and TV critics such as myself have played the “it’s an allegory for the pandemic!” card to death, reacting to the age of ‘rona by banging out zillions of think pieces about movies as parables for panic buying and what-not, it’s perhaps time to revert to the good old fashioned allegories that served us well before the world went topsy-turvy.

So: Netflix’s new, carnage-filled, high school-set Korean zombie show is absolutely not a metaphor about societal mayhem caused by an ultra contagious virus, because that would be too obvious. Could it be, instead, an allegory about the turbulence of adolescence or the soul-sucking perils of the education system? Nah. It’s pure, bloody, full-blown zombie pandemonium, with a huge cast of slobbering extras who very much got the memo: act unhappy, act undead, act like flesh-chewing monsters.

The show begins with a father, Lee Byung-chan (Kim Byung-chul), realising his son has been infected. So Lee—also a science teacher—attempts to kill said offspring by bludgeoning him/it to death with the Good Book, presenting his own interpretation of the term ‘bible basher’.

Lee’s containment strategies do not work, partly because they involve him keeping a cute lil zombie hamster. A school student sticks her finger in the cage and, wouldn’t ya know it, gets bitten, soon spreading the virus around and prompting the aforementioned carnage. The first hour is mostly build-up, the end of episode one marking the point where the real flesh chewing begins—nay, the real face-chewing, though precise details are best left for bloodshed-lusting audiences to witness for themselves.

Contrary to those keen to compare All of Us Are Dead to another recent Netflix show from Korea—the one that gave primary school playground games a Jigsaw makeover—this isn’t the ‘new’ Squid Game: rather, a splatterfest designed for zombie appreciators wanting from the show what it says it’ll do on the tin.

Zombie movies and series that cross over into general appeal typically mix genres—Shaun of the Dead, for instance, is a romantic comedy, and the Australian series Glitch doubles as a serious drama palatable for mainstream middle-age audiences to watch over dinner. All of Us Are Dead doesn’t have that kind of broad appeal.

The show could be read as a story about coming-of-age—if I hadn’t prohibited such allegorical interpretations earlier in this review. It’s quite entertaining, with a zany aura—informed by actors who speak in a slightly manic way, with intense bulging eyes—that helps keep it ticking over. But after finishing the third episode (episodes one to three forming the scope of this review) it dawned on me that I was finding the whole thing pretty damn exhausting, with so much retreading of tropes and scenes witnessed so many times before.

You know the drill: the running, the screaming, the biting, everybody falling over each other. The principal cast intermittently pause for dialogue exchanges, delving into obligatory conversations such as whether to exterminate a bitten person immediately or wait until they turn.

Rather than opting for an aesthetic edge, directors Lee Jae-kyoo and Kim Nam-su bring an over-lit style with lots of bright but flat colours, and a wide-open look emphasising motion and choreography—albeit of the very gnarly kind. The complete absence of interesting characters reiterates that this is all about havoc and spectacle.

After a while, the question beckons: who cares? Probably not your average observer, lost in the Netflix algorithms, hungry to take part in the next cultural conversation. But hardcore genre fans, definitely: their itches will be scratched, and their wounds infected.