The zombie genre has gone through peaks and troughs since George A. Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968) but it continues to shamble onwards. And while the ratings and reviews for AMC’s long-running staple The Walking Dead (2010-2022) may be on a steady downwards trajectory, the popularity of zombie content produced in languages other than English is on the rise.
South Korea, in particular, is currently leading the international charge. Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan (2016) was an instant hit and is now considered to be one of the best modern zombie movies. More recently, Netflix’s All of Us Are Dead started streaming in January this year and rapidly climbed the rankings of the platform’s category for most popular non-English TV series.
If you’ve already torn through Train to Busan’s sequel, Peninsula (2020), and animated prequel, Seoul Station (2016), and you’re patiently awaiting Netflix’s official announcement of a season 2 for All of Us Are Dead, there’s an array of international options to fill that void! Here are five of the best, most inventive zombie movies from around the world to sink your teeth into…
#Alive (Dir. Cho Il-hyung, South Korea, 2020)
Cho Il-hyung’s #Alive follows Oh Joon-woo, a video game live streamer, attempting to survive alone in his apartment in Seoul as a zombie virus ravages the city. The film captures the loneliness, fear, and uncertainty of living in isolation amid an outbreak of an unknown infectious disease. #Alive was shot a few months before the outbreak of Covid-19 and was released during the first wave of the pandemic, ensuring inevitable if unforeseen comparisons with the state of the real world at the time.
Although coronavirus is nothing like the film’s zombie plague (thankfully), Joon-woo’s struggle to maintain his sanity does feel, at times, reminiscent of real life. While the emotional core of the movie strikes a familiar chord, his immediate situation is, of course, considerably more frenzied and violent. The infected aren’t the slow shamblers of Romero; instead they are more akin to the fast-moving and vicious hordes of Train to Busan. Not only is the city in undead chaos, but Joon-woo has limited food and water and almost no phone service.
One of the things that makes #Alive stand apart from the crowd is Joon-woo’s use of modern technology. Social media is ever present in our daily lives, so it makes sense that people would stay online for as long as possible during a zombie apocalypse. Joon-woo doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, but his attempts to use technology to his advantage are fun to root for, and part of what makes the movie so compelling.
Rec (Dir. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, Spain, 2007)
Found footage horror movies can be divisive. Not only is the justification for someone continuing to film in the horrific situation often quite flimsy, but the obligatory shaky cam visuals can be headache-inducing. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s Rec is largely free of these problems, however. Reporter Ángela and cameraman Pablo are shooting a TV show about jobs that are normally done in the middle of the night when most people are asleep. While following and filming a crew of firefighters, they witness an incident at an apartment building. It becomes apparent that a rabies-like infection is spreading, but when they try to leave they realize they have been quarantined and are trapped inside. Given this set-up, the continued filming feels legitimate and the camerawork itself is the right blend between the professional style expected of a TV show and the more panicked style befitting the life-threatening events unfolding.
Rec spawned a host of sequels and an American remake, Quarantine (2008), but the original is definitely the best. Seeing everything from the point of view of Pablo envelops the viewer and pulls us into the action. We experience confusion, claustrophobia, and visceral fear right alongside the characters. Rather than feeling gimmicky, in this case the found footage medium serves the story and is sure to get your heart rate climbing. The infected people are erratic and aggressive, and their rapid movements and reactions are rendered even more terrifying by the up-close-and-personal camerawork: Prepare yourself for jump scares throughout.
One Cut of the Dead (Dir. Shin’ichirô Ueda, Japan, 2017)
It’s best to experience One Cut of the Dead knowing as little as possible beyond the basic premise. All you need to know is that it is about a film crew who are shooting a low-budget zombie flick in an abandoned warehouse when they are attacked by actual zombies. That might sound like I’ve given too much away, but trust me, that’s only the beginning. The film starts off with a one-take shot that lasts 37 minutes. Not everyone will love this section but even if you are less than impressed with the way it begins, I urge you to stick with it and see it through—you really need to watch the entire movie to give it a fair chance.
One Cut of the Dead is itself a low-budget indie film which was written, directed, and edited by Shin’ichirô Ueda. It initially received an extremely limited release but started to gain traction after being screened at the Udine Film Festival. Word of mouth further helped to get this surprising zombie comedy onto people’s screens. Not only is Ueda’s movie laugh-out-loud funny, it is also genuinely inventive in a way that many people think of as being beyond the capabilities of the now well-worn zombie genre.
Dead Snow (Dir. Tommy Wirkola, Norway, 2009)
Dead Snow has a classic horror movie setup: a group of students go to a remote cabin on a Norwegian mountain for a vacation. But their skiing and partying is rudely interrupted by something a little more unusual than the standard serial killer or zombie horde. This group have to face off against not just zombies, but Nazi zombies. I know that concept sounds ridiculous, but don’t worry, it’s supposed to! Director Tommy Wirkola takes the viewer on a wild ride, providing equal amounts of visceral horror and silly comedy. If you like horror movies with inventive kills then Dead Snow is definitely one to see.
Not only are the zombies evil Nazis, but they are also more intelligent than the average movie zombie. Rather than being a brain-dead disorganized mob, they can communicate with each other and even use tools. Wirkola’s film takes a playful approach to the conventions of the horror genre and never takes itself too seriously. This tone means that the excessive gore comes across as fun rather than stomach-churning, and the snowy setting makes a perfect background, brilliantly showing off the copious amount of blood and guts.
If the bludgeoning, hacking, and sawing of the first movie doesn’t fully satisfy your appetite then fear not, because Wirkola made an even more excessive sequel, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014). The comedy is sillier, and the deaths are both more plentiful and somehow more violently over-the-top.
The Night Eats the World (Dir. Dominique Rocher, France, 2018)
I’m sure we’d all like to think that in the event of a zombie apocalypse we would be like The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes, fearlessly facing off against walkers and battling our way to safety. In reality, it’s far more probable that we would be like Sam from Dominique Rocher’s The Night Eats the World. After falling asleep at a party (relatable), Sam wakes up to find that Paris is now crawling with zombies. Instead of venturing out boldly like Rick, he remains within the apartment building (also relatable). He pragmatically gathers supplies and attempts to clear the building, favoring the safety of hiding over the heroics of fighting.
Rocher’s zombie movie is more low-key than many modern offerings. The film is much more focused on Sam’s struggle to survive on his own and his declining mental state than on intense action and zombie-killing. This psychological emphasis gives the film a slower pace, but this is not to say that the zombies are not incredibly creepy. While the undead are usually portrayed as being very vocal, with their constant moaning and snarling, in The Night Eats the World they are silent, which is deeply unnerving in its own way. This French film doesn’t deliver the constant high-stakes action typical of the genre, but if you’re in the mood for a more realistic zombie survival story then it fits the bill perfectly.
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and is a lover of all things science fiction and horror. She lives in Scotland with her rescue greyhound, Misty.