Consider this: If ‘Stranger Things,’ another Netflix hit, was created with Korean creative sensibilities in mind, with the entire cast and crew stationed in Korea, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. In a nutshell, that’s ‘All of Us Are Dead.’
This Lee Jae-Kyoo production reiterates—and sort of cements its position in world cinema—why we should all pay attention to Korean artists: the K-everything craze is NOT for nothing, guys! What begins as an innocent in-between-class shiz at Hyosan High School quickly transforms into a full-fledged state crisis, with teenagers biting chunks of flesh off of each other, twisting their bodies in unusual attitudes and orientations, and gurgling out blood! Human blood. This ‘turn’ of events may be explicitly attributed to a certain gang of bullies—though not entirely—and the gravity of the situation is heightened by a lab-created virus (Rings a bell?). While the rest of the school is draining and drinking human bodies, a huge gang of students fights to remain afloat and make it to the other side of this epidemic, if that’s even a possibility.
Since the pandemic’s appearance in 2020, few things have qualified as ‘fanciful’ and/or ‘unbelievable.’ And this anecdote simply brings one back to those early days of confusion: terrifying PPE kits, peer battles over who brought the illness home, and so on.
This 12-episode, lengthy show is by far the best work on humanity’s cataclysmic nature; it explains in clear, logical terms why science meets human intervention is always a dangerous combination. Jae-kyoo takes us through the different stages of an orchestrated tragedy, from seeding to whatever irrational explanation the culprit(s) has to offer, to its very finish, through hurried—and that is a compliment—storytelling and an anxiety-inducing pace of execution. Since we addressed urban tales and folklore in our opening, it’s worth noting an excerpt from one of the first few episodes in which a depressed young girl asks, “Is it okay to kill if no one is on your side?” Her wise comments remind us of Mary Shelley’s classic conversation from ‘Frankenstein’: “It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account, we shall be more connected to one another.” In essence, ‘All of Us Are Dead’ is a science fiction film as well as a case study on humans’ survival instincts: some simple, some terrible. When there is leeway for such indulgences, ‘All of Us Are Dead’ addresses essential, yet uncomfortable questions about human nature, and throws in scientific jargon where necessary. This show is one of the best in the genre so far because of its unique presentation of the narrative—a beautiful blend of human awakening and the havoc it is capable of unleashing. Another fascinating facet of the supernatural that has previously been seen in ‘Split’ is the interweaving of metaphysical creatures such as zombies with semi-humans.
Unlike other shows that barely touch on contemporary narrative issues to create resonance, this series gets to the bottom of problems without being too weighty or annoying for its audience. The classic elements of betrayal, class distinction, teen pregnancy, and how a specific section of society bullies those beneath them, termed the rich brat mentality, are all there. ‘All of Us Are Dead’ tries to suggest, through motifs and metaphors, that the joke is on you.
The young actors in the production, and we mean all of them, deserve a standing ovation for tackling a sensitive issue with such zeal. Yes, the gore can be too graphic for television at times, but as the show goes on, one grows acclimated to the concept of such violence on screen. Allow yourself some time for this one.
‘Any of Us Are Dead’ is a carnage that is not for the average Jane or Joe: it is dark, disgusting, and deprives humans of all dignity that is considered necessary to function in a civilized society. We guess that you’ll either love it for its daring or despise it for its bluntness. In either case, the show has the desired effect on you.