A zombie movie with a twist, with Yeon Sanh-ho directing a brisk and original thriller that takes the conventional horror elements and delights on putting them on a train. A diverse group of characters board a train in Seoul, heading for Busan, but one of the passengers carries a bit mark. Soon, an epidemic is spreading through the compartments, and a father and daughter relationship is tested as the zombie onslaught catches up with the unwary passengers. Train to Busan features fast-moving zombies in the fashion of World War Z, and there’s genuine tension is some of the race and chase scenes. Moments like a brief stop at an empty railway platform have a genuinely nightmarish quality; Hollywood might do this kind of thing bigger, but Train to Busan delivers on its simple premise. Train to Busan 2 is, not surprisingly, on the way.
Writer and director Bong Joon-ho follows up his splendid free-spirited monster movie The Host with a big budget action film set in a frozen future and with the action confined to a nuclear-powered train that smashes dramatically through snowdrifts. On board, there’s a revolution going on, with downtrodden back-of-the-coach inhabitants led by Curtis and Edgar (Chris Evans and Jamie Bell) against Mason (Tilda Swinton). Swinton’s performance is the first sign that Snowpiercer is heading off the rails; somewhat between Dame Thora Hird and Sue Pollard from British sit-com Hi-di-Hi, her weirdly comic, distracting turn indicates a fatal lack of cohesiveness about the film. Curtis battles his way up to the front of the train to confront Ed Harris as the big boss, with a few well-staged action sequences along the way. But despite an original idea and strong mounting, Snowpiercer is a mess, with a cumbersome length, uninvolving storylines and illogical incidents that provoke derisory laughs rather than thrills.
George P Costmatos’s 1976 film marked the start of the slow decline of the disaster movie; it’s the kind of all star extravaganza that defies logic and credulity, but the packaging is consistently entertaining. Richard Harris play a divorced couple who end up by chance on the same trail; they’ve picked the worst possible transportation, since there’s a plague carrier on board, not to mention a seriously weakened bridge to negotiate. There’s also a motely collection of actors doing their thing, including OJ Simpson, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner and John Phillip Law. McKenzie (Burt Lancaster) is trying to cover up the outbreak, with disastrous results; Cosmatos is intent on using the tropes of a conspiracy thriller to knit the disparate elements together, and the result is chaotic but enjoyable; continually on rotation on British and American television throughout the eighties, The Cassandra Crossing is one of these daft films indelibly branded into the consciousness of several generations.
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda scored an international sleeper with this charming film about wishes and dreams in a decidedly modern world. Koichi (Koki Maeda) has lost touch with his brother due to the separation of his parents; when a new bullet-train network in Japan is unveiled, he is told that the precise moment when two trains pass each other is the moment that dreams can come true; he enlists a group of friends to make the trek to the appointed spot in the hope that he can reunite his family. Whimsical, yet pragmatic, I Wish is a realistic fantasy of family life and brotherhood, a Stand By Me for the 21st century.
Eugenio Martin’s 1972 thriller seems to have fallen into a weird copyright limbo that means its available for free practically everywhere; it’s an ideal late-night romp for genre fans. A rare example of a period sci-fi thriller, set on a train, Horror Express features Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing battling a frozen alien that has the power to move from body to body; Telly Savalas comes onboard the Trans-Siberian express as Captain Kovacs to try and sort out the ensuing melee, and the whole things ends with an impressive crash. Horror Express builds the same kind of tension as The Thing, and with a cast of genre stalwarts on top form, it fully deserves a remake; it’s a delicious curio.