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All of Us Are Dead Review: A Deeper, Horrifying Take on The Zombie Genre

All of Us Dead
Photo Credit: Yang Hae-sung/Netflix © 2021

Every zombie series follows a similar blueprint: virus outbreak, running and screaming, and a seemingly insurmountable set of struggles — all leading to a bittersweet conclusion with hope lingering in the very far distance. 

What makes Netflix’s South Korean drama All of Us Are Dead different and so appealing is its setting, the compelling characters, and the way the events progress in a believable and gripping way. The downfall for the series is that it’s a bit ambitious for its own good and at times it falls flat. That’s not to say it doesn’t achieve something fresh and exciting, quite the opposite. 

There are a few spoilers ahead, although none are exceedingly major. 

All of Us Are Dead primarily follows a group of students who are trapped at Hyosan High School after someone “infected” spreads the virus to the whole school. It slowly spreads outside of the building to other parts of Hyosan. The main characters include the upbeat Nam On-jo (Ji-hu Park), clever Lee Cheong-san (Chan-Young Yoon), reserved Choi Nam-ra (Yi-Hyun Cho), and popular Lee Su-hyeok (Park Solomon). There are others in their small group, such as comedic characters like Dae-su (Lim Jae-hyuk) or Mi-Jin (Lee Eun-saem) who both do an excellent job at cutting the tension with some believable humor even in the dark situation.

There are many other characters worth mentioning, like On-jo’s firefighter father Nam So-ju (Jeon Bae-su) who crosses numerous obstacles trying to reach her, or detective Song Jae-ik (Lee Kyu-hyung) who attempts to save everyone in his path. The antagonists are not to be forgotten, either, with dark characters like Lee Na-yeon (Lee Yoo-mi) or Yoon Gwi-nam (Yoon In-soo) depicting the ways in which this situation can cause people to do extreme, horrible things. In particular, Gwi-nam, who is something similar to “immune,” becoming half-zombie, is the perfect villain, chasing after the group and wreaking havoc everywhere he goes. 

We see a lot of different stories unfolding at once, not just the students’. We get to see the creator of the virus and his family (that he infected purposely), a pregnant student leaving school, a live-streamer trapped on a roof, a bullied student who gets revenge once she turns into a zombie, the soldiers trying to contain the spread, etc. Although it is a great idea to show glimpses at so many characters, sometimes this gets messy. 

First, it’s hard to build an emotional attachment to many of them when we barely know them. For example (SPOILER ALERT), On-jo’s best friend I-Sak (Kim Ju-a) is bitten and, although it’s a sad moment, we didn’t get enough time to connect with her or see their relationship, and so it’s a bit one dimensional. And because we see so many faces in so little time, it’s hard to keep up. 

Overall, it’s a bit saddening to see the ways in which the characters grapple with the pain differently, and how many people are willing to sacrifice others or how many missed opportunities slip through the cracks because of an untimely death or twist of fate. But because this is a zombie show, All of Us Are Dead pulls this aspect off extremely well. The deaths are not predictable, and even though they are honestly a bit rushed, it makes sense at times because of how much the group of characters has to keep moving. If they stop and mourn for too long, they’ll be next. 

Considering previous South Korean zombie series or films, such as the popular drama Kingdom or hit film Train to Busan, there were high expectations for this series. It falls short on some of these, and delivers in other areas. When compared to other zombie shows like The Walking Dead, the reason this show seems like a new take on the genre is because of how the virus breaks out in the school and forces most of the series to take place there. It echoes other teen shows by taking place in a familiar setting (high school) and creating relatable moments, like the students confessing their crushes, grappling with the potential loss of their parents, or arguing over what the smartest methods are when they have never done this alone before. This can be relatable because the viewer feels for them even more, and it’ll have you hoping for every plan (like finding a phone or making a huge barricade out of desks and chairs) to work somehow. 

“No one’s coming to save us.”

This quote really encompasses what the show is about. The whole time, the students move from one place to the next, trying to outrun the zombies, all while nobody comes to help them. The military is cautious over who to save, and they are not high on the list since the high school was the place the outbreak began. It gets even worse when they discover people can be “immune,” not showing signs of infection. Them moving from place to place gets really repetitive, and so do the fight scenes at times, along with the random deaths. At the same time, the characters must do this over and over because the sad reality is the military is aiming to sacrifice the few to save the many. Unfortunately, they are the few and they are suffering the whole time.

Overall, the show has its faults. Not only can it be repetitive, at times the pacing is strange and there are unnecessary characters or moments between characters that don’t amount to anything at the end of the day. It’s also hard to feel connected to everyone we see, even for a majority of the series. But All of Us Are Dead tackles questions about morality, relationships, and independence that are necessary in every piece of zombie media in a unique way with a varied cast of characters that will, by the end, have you rooting for them in every sense of the word. 

The ending is open-ended in many ways, so it’s safe to say there may be a season two on the way. It’s just heartbreaking that many of the characters we lost along the way won’t be in it. To anyone contemplating watching this series: All of Us Are Dead is not the show that will get non-zombie lovers into this genre. But for anyone who is curious about or generally interested in it, this is a must-watch. 

All of Us Are Dead is now streaming on Netflix.



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