As our reviews for the Annecy International Animated Film Festival come to an end, we’ll be looking at one of the few genres that animation doesn’t overlap with: Horror. More than not, horror icons or tropes are not used in this medium to scare or drive up tension, mostly used as parody done in Hotel Transylvania and ParaNorman. In the sea of the zombie phenomenon, it’s surprising we’ve never done any straight-forward animated horror films when we used to draw intense shading or brutal violence decades ago. Thanks to good ol’ Annecy, someone or country is breaking the mold to bring a new story in this beloved art form.
Animated Anarchy’s Annecy Festival Week reaches its final destination at Seoul Station thanks to this review by Maciek Kur.
‘Seoul Station’ is a South Korean animated horror movie directed by Yeon Sang-ho. In Seoul, a young girl named Hae-sun is trying to get over her past as a prostitute after running away from home. However, her new boyfriend, Ki-woong, wants her to continue her “career” in order for them to pay the rent money and puts her photos online to advertise her. Well, guess who shows up one night after coming across an ad on the Internet, but Hae-sun’s father, who always wanted to find and rescue her.
While appropriately beating the shit out of the amateurish pimp, the father discovers that Hae-sun is actually nowhere to be found, as the city is in the middle of a zombie apocalypse! Yep, apparently a zombie virus is spreading from victim to victim at rapid speed. Now it’s up to the father and the forcibly brought along Ki-woong to find Hae-sun, while she and a homeless bum she meets are trying to survive on their own.
I’m no specialist in the zombie genre (never seen a single episode of ‘The Walking Dead’) so I wouldn’t be all that shocked if every single trope in Seoul Station was already done to death and now resurrected in animated form (puns!) In fact, a lot of locations felt like standard zombie apocalypse local, from abandoned hospitals, subways and police stations. The movie never even bothers to explain why there’s a zombie epidemic in Seoul, but does at least reveal where the infection originated from.
I’m not sure what animated technique was used in the movie, but a lot of it felt rotoscoped, and through the facial animation was done pretty well, the general body movement occasionally looked awkward and unnatural. Even though it works as an eerie effect for the zombies’s swaying lurch, the ways in which many of the human characters move never feel particularly natural.
The movie mainly focuses on action, featuring plenty of sneaking around with suspenseful chases. Despite the consistent action beats, the characters get little development, making them difficult to relate to. Coupled with some heavy exposition dialogue in the first act and a complete lack of story consistency when it comes to the zombie plague itself, significant portions of the the film feel enormously inconsequential and muddled.
Finally, I’m convinced that the movie intended to have some sort of commentary on poverty and the supposed lack of empathy in society, but all of that is lost in the film’s action sequences and boring characters. In all honesty, it’s pretty disappointing, especially since South Korean animation studios have produced some amazing content over the years, including ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘The Legend of Korra,’ ‘Phineas and Ferb,’ and Bruce Timm’s ‘Justice League.’ As it stands, ‘Seol Station’ achieves nothing other than being a gory piece of entertainment.
So an interesting fact about the director Yeon Sang-ho is that Seoul Station isn’t his only zombie movie. From this year. Train to Busan is his other zombie feature done this time completely in live action. It has received critical acclaim from festival goers for portraying the threat of zombies as a pulse-pounding, never-ending pursuit. So by working on two zombie films at the same time, I have to wonder if one of them flourished while the other one suffered.
I do have to admit, Seoul Station has some really nice aesthetics going for it. The art style reminds me of Satoshi Kon’s blend of gonzo yet natural-looking humans that would transition perfectly into zombies. The CGI unfortunately is very noticeable which could work fine in actions scenes with several motions, but I couldn’t help but notice the flat, restricted movements during scenes where characters just talked. I always get bothered in films where action is put over quiet character build-up, because you can’t help but notice the animation’s lack of consistency as a whole.
I’m not all that much of a horror fan unless it’s very psychological. So Seoul Station might not be up my alley or Maciek’s, but this sounds like something cool to check out if you like zombies. We do get really cool interpretations and meanings of zombies from around the globe, like the UK’s Dead Set, Spain’s REC, or Cuba’s Jaun of the Dead. So keep an eye out for this director’s work, as Seoul Station is one of the few films from Annecy to get a North American Release.
So before we end this blog, Maciek has asked me to post some trailers for some of the films he missed during the festival that are getting pretty big attention in the indie circuit. You never know what’ll reach American soil, but it’s worth keeping these animated treasures in the back of your mind in case they pop up.
The other Canadian production nominated for the Crystal Audience Award is Window Horses, a crowd-funded feature about a young girl who must keep her identity alive as she’s invited to a poetry competition in Iran. Looks to open the gate for really amazing dream sequences.
Across the ocean, we get Spain’s bleak, post-apocalyptic entry Psychonauts: The Forgotten Children. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, the film follows the story of Dinky and Birdboy, two kids who struggle to survive through the demented, crumbling society of their nuclear wasteland.
And finally, it’s worth noting that Annecy does its damnedest to celebrate shorts. So if you follow the link from this video or the Gobelins youtube channel to check out several of the short films shown before each movie. This video in particular is a celebration to Annecy and several the partners who helped make the festival possible.
Thank you all very much for keeping up with the return of Animated Anarchy and our late coverage of the Annecy Animation Film Festival. All the thanks in the world go to our Polish friend Maciek Kur for his reviews and detailed expertise. Be sure to check out his comic book series “Lil i Put” and keep an eye out for his involvement in the burgeoning Polish Animation Scene. We may get some more great foreign cover and first-looks at some fascinating projects soon. Thanks for reading! And leave a comment below if you’d like to suggest any animation topics for coverage!