A pharmaceutical corporation’s illegal experiments on students and vagrants go awry: Test subjects first die, and then return from the dead. One of these subjects (Jung Ga-ram) unwittingly wanders into the village of Poonsang, where he encounters a most unusual family: Jun-geol (Jung Jae-young, On the Beach at Night Alone) and his pregnant wife Nam-joo (Uhm Ji-won, Missing) run a shady service station, bilking travelers out of exorbitant amounts of money on repairs for accidents that they, themselves, have caused. Their business partners include Jun-geol’s father, Man-deok (Park In-hwan, Miss Granny), and surly little sister, Hae-geol (Lee Su-gyeong). When Man-deok is bitten by the zombie and falls ill, college graduate brother, Min-geol (Kim Nam-gil, Memoir of a Murderer), realizes something is very wrong. Min-geol attempts to take the zombie away, but little sister Hae-geol has a different idea. She has, it seems, grown attached to the stranger, naming him “Jong-bi” and making a bed for him in the barn, next to her pet rabbit.
The Odd Family has met with more than its fair share of harsh criticism: reviewers pan the film for being unfunny, citing its reliance on established formulas as its primary weakness. Quite the contrary, the film’s witty use of references to other works – most notably The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006), A Werewolf Boy (Jo Sung-hee, 2012), and Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho, 2016), the last of which even turns up as a clip on one character’s phone – suggests a self-awareness that raises it far above the majority of undead films and television programs that have begun popping up with alarming regularity since the turn of the millennium.
Noteworthy, too, is the film’s arguably progressive take on gender. Women are more often than not the problem solvers in this picture, using whatever means they have at hand. Nam-joo, in particular, proves to be especially adept at transforming everyday tools traditionally used by women (a broom, a rice cooker, a frying pan) into deadly weapons. On the other hand, it is the male villagers’ manic desire for renewed virility that triggers a massive disaster.
Set design and cinematography are absolutely top notch. The brilliantly colored sets and jewel-toned lighting rival Technicolor productions. Also especially remarkable is the way that the director makes use of frames: For example, several times throughout the film the camera pulls back to reveal characters as they move from one side of the frame to another, creating a visual reminiscent of something one might see on a zoetrope or other early viewing device. In other scenes it is the camera that moves, capturing elements of a large event one fragment at a time. Nearly every sequence in the film features a frame within a frame: garage windows, walls, doorframes, mirrors all refocus attention to specific elements of the image. As a purely visual experience, the film is an absolute delight. The score is particularly effective, creating moods that are touching at times, humorous at others. One noteworthy example of this is the scene in which a fireworks display is transformed from a showcase of horror and carnage into a genuinely touching moment of nostalgia and peacefulness. Finally, the performances of all of the actors – even the supporting cast – are perfectly suited to the material: part comic book zombie mania, part teen romance.
For maximum effect, as with any thriller, viewers are advised see the film from beginning to end, with as little foreknowledge about the plot as possible.