“All of us are dead” leaves viewers emotionally dead

Korea gifts yet another doom story that toys with the emotions and flight-or-fight instincts of viewers * spoilers ahead *

Julie Ham

Zombies have taken the media industry by storm. “All of Us are Dead” (2022) is one of many zombie films, but the producers took the time to study and learn the zombie genre before nailing it on the head. 

Feb break was a well-intentioned excuse to sit down and finally binge the other Korean series that was in the top 10 of the U.S. besides “Squid Games.” My friends and I sat down to watch an episode or two before heading to sleep. One episode turned into two into three, three into four, and then it was morning. Twelve episodes – twelve hours – flew by in two days, and at the end, we all sunk an extra inch into our marks on the sofa, exhausted.

Needless to say, it was good. I don’t want to attach any qualifying adjectives to that. The drama was just good. The zombies were spectacular. It didn’t feel too cheesy or overdone, rather it felt genuinely scary. They felt like an organic part of this world, rather than just an added element of horror and gore. The acting too contributed to this, and credit should be given to the actors who were able to transform themselves into these creatures. My friends and I exchanged our fair share of screams and shudders. 

The show centers itself on a group of high school students with various archetypes. Cheong-San is a natural leader blessed with strength and loyalty; On-Jo is his childhood friend (maybe more?); Nam-Ra has the smarts but also lacks empathy towards her peers; Su-Hyeok is a reliable bimbo who is head over heels for Nam-Ra; Na-Yeon is the spoiled antagonist, and Gwi-Nam is the bully. 

The dynamics of these characters amongst each other, whether it be Na-Yeon versus the rest of the class or the main conflict between Cheong-San and Gwi-Nam – who turns into a zombie with human consciousness – contributes in propelling the plotline. I was engrossed in every second of these scenes, watching the manifestation of these characters out for each other’s blood. Na-Yeon’s scene where she’s ostracized by her peers for purposefully “zombifying” a classmate is particularly devastating because you can’t help but empathize with her, but only from an arm’s length distance. Like other moments, the emotion is pungent, and I felt myself crying in some of the more emotionally driven scenes.

Worthy of particular mention are the scenes where certain social issues are explored. The enmity in Na-Yeon’s character towards the poor brings the socioeconomic imbalances of the Korean economy into light. 

More important is the entire backstory of the zombies: a father created a solution to strengthen his sons against his abusive bullies, but turned him into the first zombie. The complexity of this situation makes it hard for the viewer to take sides. Students are sexually, verbally, and physically tormented, and the show does not attempt to censor the reality of many Korean children. Bullies gang up and forcibly undress a girl, filming her naked to use as blackmail unless she brings them money. 

Such scenes are so hard to swallow that I found myself crying at every power struggle, especially ones that contextualize the extent of the son’s suffering and the father’s desperation. It’s so hard to choose any sides in this series. And at one point, you find that it’s simply not your position to judge. 

The ending of the series left much to desire, which only means that there’s a season two announcement around the corner. I’m not sure if I’ll take the time to watch, seeing how emotionally and physically exhausting the show is in just 12 episodes, but I’d still recommend it to all. So watch it – or find a friend to leech off!