Story: At Hyosan High School, a student is bitten by a lab mouse and gets sick within minutes. The mouse was an experiment by a teacher who used to be a brilliant scientist. He was looking for a way to make his son stronger and more aggressive because he is bullied by his classmates. The virus actually manages to activate animal instincts, but also simultaneously kills the host: a zombie virus has been created. The first infected student bites another person at school and is then taken to the hospital, where she also infects other people. A zombie pandemic breaks out in the city, but the students don't know about that yet, because they are busy surviving the outbreak at their own school. In the middle of this zombie apocalypse there are the students Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young) and On-jo (Park Ji-hu), who have been friends since their childhood. While Cheong-san actually has romantic feelings for On-jo, she is only interested in So-hyeok (Park Solomon). Soo-hyeok, on the other hand, tries to get closer to the rather quiet class president Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun). So, things might seem like a regular day in a teenager's life if it weren't for the zombies lurking on the school corridors trying to eat the few survivors who are left. Some students barricade themselves and want to wait for a rescue team, but at some point, it becomes clear that help will probably not arrive before it is too late. Whether they want to or not, the students will have to fight their way out of the school all by themselves...
Review: It's pretty bold to put a series like this on screen in 2022, rehashing this horror subgenre after there have already been numerous zombie flicks and series of that kind. The majority of the viewers just have to feel surfeited by now, but then again you should not forget that the younger generation - surprisingly "All of Us Are Dead" has an age rating of 16 - may not have had so much contact with the genre yet, and as the zombies' playground is a school, this aspect of everyday life can certainly also forge a bridge to a teenage audience, especially since various love interests are woven into the story too. To everyone's surprise, the new hit series on Netflix will also be able to convince old-timers of the genre, as there is no denying that the theme gets a breath of fresh air. This is also due to the fact that the well-known story is combined with some social criticism which is interspersed throughout the series, for example bullying in class, but also current Covid-19 measures.
With a series that revolves around zombies, the all-important question for a lot of viewers will probably be whether their genre hunger can be satisfied. And the answer to that is an unquestionable yes. One of the series' strengths is its make-up, especially since we get to see an extremely large number of zombies at the same time. All this is accompanied by good sound effects. Not only do the zombies sound creepy, but during their transformation we are also rewarded with little extras like cracking bones. But visually there is also some variation, for instance, some undead distort their bodies in pretty nasty ways. The countless zombie extras also do an excellent job here, and there are some stuntmen in the mix as well. It's also nice that the zombies are fast. In general, you will feel reminded of the blockbuster "Train to Busan", but the series is also aware of that and so one of the students even mentions the movie. The zombies' high mobility also provides extra thrills and some nice escape sequences.
So the horror factor works and the special effects are also impressive, especially some explosions towards the end. In addition, we also get some bonus treats. For example, the virus itself is quite unpredictable because it is mutating. That's why we get a zombie villain who is somehow still alive and keeps his personality. This leaves room for a nice revenge story or a special form of bullying, which once again forges a bridge to the beginning of the series, where the story's main focus already was bullying at school. As is fitting for a series like this, there are also some violent scenes. Although the scenes are generally not too gruesome, there are still a few moments every now and then which make you wonder why the series was approved for an audience aged 16 (at least here in Germany). It should also not come as a surprise that you have to be careful who you emotionally invest in, because apart from the usual suspects who you know will kick it right from the beginning, a few people also bite the dust, who you probably would not have expected to die.
In general, the series shows a high pace. There are also a few innovative action scenes, especially a foot chase through the library, which is almost reminiscent of parkour, stands out in a positive way. Another exceptional element is the camera work, especially at the beginning. Because here you also get some very nicely staged, long tracking shots. The small potential romances between the teenagers seem innocent, just as they would be at school, and director Lee Jae-gyoo ("Intimate Strangers") and Kim Nam-so thankfully avoid becoming tacky in this series, which is based on the webtoon "Now at Our School" (also the series' original title). With the various interpersonal relationships, the show clearly wants to win us over for the characters, which sadly only works to some extent. Yoon Chan-young as Cheong-san is not really convincing in the more emotional moments, whereas Park Ji-hu ("Black Light") actually manages to get a little more out of her role. However, as is typical for shows like this, the fact remains that while the characters are still likeable, they would have done better with a little more depth. But it is a good thing that the series mainly takes place at school. Even though there are some side plotlines revolving around On-jo's father, a police officer, and the military, the story mostly stays focused on the teenagers and you don't get thrown back and forth between multiple storylines until you are absolutely annoyed.
There is also some political and social criticism in the series. First, people in charge want to handle the outbreak at school internally but are unable to deal with it, experts on the subject uselessly stand around, although they would know what to do, facts are manipulated to make sure you are still in the right, the media give out false information and exaggerate things just for good headlines, and even though the government does not want to control the media, they still censor it, crimes against humanity are committed, so that a person even has to ask how much cruelty is okay just because you can justify it with saving the majority, rules are laid down and get changed pointlessly until nobody understands anymore why you should adhere to them, the pandemic is exploited politically, martial law is declared and even politicians put the thin line between that and dictatorship into question, etc. The parallels are obvious, and the series actually treats Covid like a pandemic of the past. Another socially critical level is added by the fact that the students exclude every potentially infected person from the group for the time being, and with that they simply continue the bullying from their everyday school life, even though this behavior was responsible for the creation of the virus in the first place. However, all these problems are only dealt with as much as possible, and the general focus still remains on the zombie story. Despite its impressive number of twelve episodes, "All of Us Are Dead" never gets boring, even if the pace briefly slows down in the middle and the last episode feels more like an epilogue - of course, featuring an option for a sequel. There is no doubt that this series only had the chance to become so popular with the audience thanks to "Squid Game", but putting all the hype aside, this zombie show is actually the better series of the two. Which is all the more astonishing because you wouldn't have expected that much from a zombie series.