The zombie genre has had its ups and downs since George A. Romero’s seminal novel night of the living dead (1968) but it continues to fall apart. And while the ratings and reviews of AMC’s longtime staple The Walking Dead (2010-2022) may be on a steady downward trajectorythe 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 Train to Busan (2016) was an instant hit and is now considered one of the best modern zombie movies. More recently, Netflix we are all dead began streaming in January this year and quickly climbed the platform’s category rankings for the most popular non-English TV series.
If you ever tore Train to Busanthe following, Peninsula (2020), and animated prequel, Seoul Station (2016), and you are patiently awaiting the official announcement by Netflix of a season 2 for we are all dead, there are a range of international options to fill that void! Here are five of the best, most inventive zombie movies from around the world to get your teeth into…
#Living (Real. Cho Il-hyung, South Korea, 2020)
Cho Il-hyung’s #Living follows Oh Joon-woo, a live video game broadcaster, trying 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. #Living was filmed months before the outbreak of Covid-19 and aired during the first wave of the pandemic, ensuring inevitable if not unforeseen comparisons with the state of the real world at the time.
While the coronavirus is nothing like the movie’s zombie plague (thankfully), Joon-woo’s struggle to maintain his sanity is sometimes reminiscent of real life. While the film’s emotional core strikes a familiar chord, its immediate situation is, of course, considerably more frenetic and violent. The infected are not Romero’s slow rowdy; instead, they are more like the fast and vicious hordes of Train to Busan. Not only is the town plunged into undead chaos, but Joon-woo has little food and water and almost no phone service.
One of the things that makes #Living Standing out from the crowd is Joon-woo’s use of modern technology. Social media is ever-present in our daily lives, so it makes sense for people to 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 and part of what makes the film so compelling.
Rec (Dir. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, Spain, 2007)
Found horror movies can be divisive. Not only is the justification for someone to continue filming in the horrific situation often quite flimsy, but the obligatory shaky camera visuals can cause headaches. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza Rec is largely free of these problems, however. Journalist Ángela and cameraman Pablo shoot a TV show about jobs that are normally done in the middle of the night when most people are asleep. As they follow and film a team of firefighters, they witness an incident in a building. It becomes apparent that a rabies-like infection is spreading, but when they try to leave, they realize they’ve been quarantined and trapped inside. Given this setup, the continued filming feels legit, and the camerawork itself is the right mix between the professional style expected of a TV show and the more panicky 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 Pablo’s point of view envelops the viewer and draws us into the action. We feel confusion, claustrophobia, and visceral fear right next to the characters. Rather than feeling gimmicky, in this case, the imagery found serves the story and is sure to get your heart rate soaring. Infected are erratic and aggressive, and their quick movements and reactions are made even more terrifying by the up-close and personal camera work: Prepare for jump scares throughout.
A cup of the dead (Dir. Shin’ichirô Ueda, Japan, 2017)
It is better to experience A cup of the dead know as little as possible beyond the basic premise. All you need to know is that it’s about a film crew shooting a low-budget zombie movie in an abandoned warehouse when they’re attacked by real zombies. It may seem like I’ve given too much, but believe me, this is just the beginning. The film begins with a single shot that lasts 37 minutes. Not everyone will like this section, but even if you’re not impressed with how it starts, I urge you to stick with it and keep going. You really have to watch the whole movie to give it a chance.
A cup of the dead is itself a low-budget independent film that was written, directed and edited by Shin’ichirô Ueda. It initially received an extremely limited release but began to gain traction after being screened at the Udine Film Festival. Word of mouth also helped bring this surprising zombie comedy to people’s screens. Not only is Ueda’s film funny, but it’s also genuinely inventive in a way that many people think is 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 college students travel to a remote cabin on a Norwegian mountain for a vacation. But their skiing and partying is abruptly interrupted by something a little more unusual than the standard serial killer or zombie horde. This group must face not only zombies, but Nazi zombies. I know this concept sounds ridiculous, but don’t worry, it’s supposed to! Director Tommy Wirkola takes the viewer on a wild ride, delivering equal amounts of visceral horror and silly comedy. If you like horror movies with inventive murders, then dead snow is definitely to be seen.
Not only are the zombies evil Nazis, but they’re also smarter than the average zombie in the movie. 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 horror genre conventions and never takes itself too seriously. This tone means the excessive gore comes across as fun rather than stomach churning, and the snowy setting makes for a perfect backdrop, showing off the abundant amount of blood and guts brilliantly.
If the bludgeoning, hacking and sawing of the first movie doesn’t fully satisfy your appetite, then fear not, because Wirkola has made an even more excessive sequel, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014). The comedy is dumber and the deaths are both more numerous and somehow more violently exaggerated.
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’d be like The Walking Deadis Rick Grimes, fearlessly confronting walkers and struggling to get to safety. In reality, it’s much more likely that we’d be like Dominique Rocher’s Sam The night eats the world. After falling asleep at a (relatable) party, Sam wakes up to find that Paris is now crawling with zombies. Instead of boldly venturing out like Rick, he stays in the building (also relatable). He pragmatically gathers supplies and attempts to clear the building, prioritizing the safety of hiding over the heroism of fighting.
Rocher’s zombie flick is more understated than many modern offerings. The film is much more about Sam’s struggle to survive on his own and his declining mental state than it is about the intense action and slaying of zombies. This psychological focus gives the movie a slower pace, but that doesn’t mean the zombies aren’t incredibly scary. While the undead are generally depicted as being very vocal, with their constant moans and growls, in The night eats the world they’re 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, it fits the bill perfectly.
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and loves all things sci-fi and horror. She lives in Scotland with her rescue greyhound, Misty.