“All of Us Are Dead” adequately executes a high school zombie survival show with an intriguing spin

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photo credits: Netflix

“All of us are Dead” uses character development to effectively execute a high school zombie survival show.

Mayukhi Katragadda, Activities Director

Netflix has recently released numerous popular k-dramas, from classic romances like “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” and “Crash-Landing On You” to thriller, apocalyptic series like “Sweet Home” and action series like “Squid Game.” Currently, the fifth most-watched Non-English show globally, “All of Us are Dead,” Netflix’s newest release, is no different in hitting the mark. 

Released on Jan. 28, “All of Us are Dead,” adapted from the webtoon “Now at Our School,” is a clever, apocalyptic survival show; despite following the formulaic zombie-survival plot, its well-written characters and variety in filmography allow it to stand out from your run of the mill science fiction show.

The drama, which takes place in Hyosan High School, revolves around the outbreak of a man-made virus originally developed by a genius science teacher at the school. When the teacher learns that his son is constantly ostracized and bullied, the teacher takes matters into his own hands and tries to develop a way to make his son stronger. His son ends up turning into a zombie and the teacher is forced to kill him in order to make sure that the virus doesn’t spread. 

And, like your conventional zombie apocalypse trope, the virus still ends up spreading when a student comes in contact with an infected lab rat. In a single afternoon, most of the school is infected, but unlike its name, not everyone ends up dying. The main characters, Lee Cheong-san (Chan Young-yoon) and Nam On-jo (Park Ji-hoo) are childhood friends who are forced together when the outbreak happens. While trying to escape, they run past blood-lusting zombies and meet the rest of the survivors, who happen to be in the same class as them.

The show spends a lot of time building unique characters, from rich kids who only look out for themselves to struggling athletes. For example, one of the main characters Su-hyeok (Lomon), an ex-delinquent with exceptional physical abilities, crushes on Nam-ra (Choi Yi-hyun), the cold class president. By establishing these relationships early on, the show becomes more nerve-gripping as these students are forced to watch each other die later on. 

However, the show often fails to focus on more intriguing characters due to unnecessary side stories, like a plot about a pregnant girl. Allowing the viewers to focus on other, more engaging characters, such as a suicidal victim of bullying who was planning to end her life right when the outbreak happened, would have elevated the show more. A majority of the cast dies in the end, like the k-drama’s name, but learning more about some characters before they died would have resulted in a greater emotional impact. 

Stuck between the adult world and the world of a child, teenagers have a hard time making decisions and often feel stuck between the worlds of maturity and innocence. I”

With characters turning into half-zombies and the excessive focus on antagonists, like the science teacher and a student who wants revenge, “All of Us are Dead” can be hard to follow. Plot holes make it even harder to interpret and the true abilities of the zombies are not fully explained. For example, the zombies have super-human power, but cannot break down a simple door or break glass when it comes to getting the students. We are also told these zombies mainly attract noise, but in some scenes, it seems like they are attracted to light instead.

Even though the plot is sometimes hard to follow, the show makes up for it with its painfully true representation of youth. It accurately portrays the true power, or rather powerlessness, of high school students. We watch as the students are left to care for themselves, unsure of rescue. They must find their own water, food and ways to survive without sacrificing each other. Stuck between the adult world and the world of a child, teenagers have a hard time making decisions and often feel stuck between the worlds of maturity and innocence. In the case of the surviving characters at Hyosan High, they quickly adapt to their situation.  As they confront not only the zombies but their inner fears and insecurities, they must come to terms with themselves and their identities. 

In one particular instance, the students help one of their teachers, who turned out to be bitten. However, when he sought refuge from these students, he hid the fact that he was bitten and started ordering around the students to block all exits. When the students questioned whether he was bitten, he snapped at them and explained that they were only kids, who didn’t know as much as an adult like him. In the end, he transforms and one of the students is forced to sacrifice themselves in order to protect the others. 

With each choice the characters make, viewers are left worried about its consequences. 

What makes the show well-executed is its huge scope. Director Lee Jae-kyoo successfully executes a large show and explains the geography of every location very well. For example, the pristine school shown at the beginning of the show quickly becomes stained with blood and bodies. 

The sheer number of people in a single room at a given time and the unpredictability of who gets bitten makes for some beautifully gory scenes. It looks like a dance of the undead at times and the color palette that turns from pastels to muddy blues and grays represents how fast the outbreak escalated and the cataclysmic nature of it. 

From a single high school to the entire city, everyone is infected except for a few. We follow not only the students, but also politicians, parents, police officers and other characters. Camaraderie is made, but it is short-lasting as zombies start to become a bigger and bigger danger

“All of Us Are Dead” follows the typical zombie survival plot to some extent, and watchers know what to roughly expect, but what makes the show different is when these events, like who gets bitten and when they do, happen. With a total watch time of around 12 hours, it has time on its side, and the pacing of the plot makes for some truly agonizing moments. 

Viewers are left crying because of the characters who die and are angry at times because of the sacrifices made, which makes it a more meaningful watch. However, what makes it even better is the visual of distorted limbs and bloody hallways, which make for some horrifying scenes that save the show even when its plot seems to die down. 

“All of Us Are Dead” is well-executed, but its plot is unfortunately generic at times and hard to follow. Overall, it is worth watching because of its characterization, but 12 hours seems too long for the show. It may not be Netflix’s best K-drama, but its ambitious visuals are enticing enough for the viewer to keep watching. “All of Us Are Dead” has a spin on your usual zombie apocalypse high school show, but it is definitely not worth dying for.