Fast-moving zombies are the only thing holding back South Korean horror-thriller Train to Busan from greatness. The zombies that attack cross-country train passengers during a never-explained crisis instantly change from infected humans into flesh-eating monsters, sprinting, tackling and even dogpiling their prey.
Thankfully, writer/director Yeon Sang-ho (King of Pigs, Seoul Station) doesn't dwell on the zombies, but rather foregrounds financial manager Seok-woo's (Gong Yoo) struggle to bond with estranged daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) while he accompanies her to a militarized safe haven. We're introduced to several supporting characters, including nervous baseball player Young-guk (Choi Woo-sik), pugnacious muscle-bro Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and shy housewife Sung-kyung (Jung Yu-Mi). But these secondary figures only teach Seok-woo, an observant but lazy executive who usually delegates his day-to-day tasks to business partners and underlings, how to care for Su-an.
Yeon's patient direction and clever plot twists make Seok-woo's transformation from selfish antihero into brave caregiver consistently compelling. Especially riveting are scenes in which Seok-woo uses athletic tape, fire extinguishers and cellphones to rescue Su-an from train cars full of zombies. Better still: Yeon's creative use of an already-claustrophobic setting -- particularly door locks, shatter-proof windows and luggage racks -- will make you yelp at every predictably moralistic death scene. Train to Busan won't surprise you, but it will get under your skin.