I can understand the fear of flying. An airplane is cramped, filled with strangers, under the control of someone you don’t know, and if something goes wrong there are very few good outcomes. In a world with pandemics all of this takes on new levels of worry. All of that (and more) comes into play in Han Jae-rim’s tense airplane thriller, Emergency Declaration. You’ll want to keep your seatbelt fastened, because there will be turbulence.
I don’t want to put many spoilers here, because like the plane flight, this film is filled with ups and downs, and twists and turns. But here are some of the elements that Han mixes together: a social media video with someone threating to do something on a flight, a police officer whose wife is flying to Hawaii, someone getting sick and dying suddenly on the flight, a former pilot (with a history of catastrophe) on the plane with his young daughter, more sickness on the plane, on the ground officials in Korea and elsewhere trying to deal with what’s happening in the air over the Pacific.
The film moves back and forth between the interior of the plane and the dynamics of impending tragedy among the passengers and crew, and those on the ground who are trying to track down the cause and possible solution. As time goes on there seem to be fewer and fewer good possible outcomes. In time, officials in many countries—as well as the passengers on the plane—must make some very difficult moral decisions.
Although Han wrote and was preparing to film prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Emergency Declaration certainly speaks to what the world has gone through the last few year. Not just because it involves a mysterious illness that rapidly spread through the plane, but because of the fear, panic, and ethical dilemmas that evolve throughout the story. We see the way information and misinformation quickly spread and change the narrative of what is happening.
The events on the plane provide the adrenaline for viewers. We can understand all the emotions that the passengers and crew are having to deal with—which increase as the flight wears on and the sense of doom builds.
For me, the events on the ground are more interesting, because although emotions are high here as well, the real challenges on the ground are ethical and political. Questions arise as to whether or not the passengers can be saved—or should be saved. There are questions of who or what must be sacrificed. How do we make such decisions? Must everyone be saved? Is there a greater good that should take precedence? And of course, the clock is ticking because the plane has only so much fuel.
This is a film that we can watch just for the thrill it brings, but it will probably also lead us to reflect on just how much the world resembles what we see on the screen. And we can consider our own responses as passengers on this flight—and also as those looking up from the ground and trying to figure out what to do.
Emergency Declaration is in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.