Series Review: “The Squid Game”

I have been a loud, proud enthusiast of South Korean cinema for a while on Nightmare Shift. South Korea is a country with a lot of talented filmmakers like Park Chan-wookKim Jee-woon, among others, and I am always grateful and interested when I find something new to write about. After Parasite discovered a level of mainstream success unheard of for a Korean film, it feels like the floodgates have opened. Western audiences are now more privy and open-minded about storytelling spoken from a foreign-language (although you can sometimes find dubbed foreign films, I find that very off-putting for a live-action film / series). Squid Game released less than a month ago, and according to reports, is evidently on-pace to become the most successful series on the platform (consider Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, and more, and you’ll understand how crazy that is).

Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game is an interesting flavor – elements of horror, elements of drama, components of a thriller, and even a little espionage thriller thrown in for good measure. The series follows a cast of characters who are down on their luck, stricken down by bad choices, unfair circumstance, or general poverty. Their lives change, however, when they are abducted and offered the opportunity to participate in a contest. The contest tasks them to compete in a series of children’s games, with the survivor being awarded riches beyond their wildest imagination. The kicker – these children’s games are now deadly.

There is a reason viewers have flocked to Squid Game. It is a fun series that resonates on an emotional level. Similar to Parasite, Squid Game doubles down on poverty and how circumstances can goad you into doing something you might not otherwise consider doing. Likewise, Squid Game knows how to juggle emotional depth with humor and oddball charm.

I don’t know about you, but I love stories about death-defying contests and challenges. Whether it be Jigsaw’s traps or Calypso’s promise of a wish in Twisted Metal, or Deadman Wonderland or this and that, all of them are enjoyable, but I would argue none of them feel as complete and thoughtful as Squid Game. I enjoyed this series a lot – for some perspective, a few days ago, I had gotten home from a three hour drive from a Comic Con (representing this wonderful little website). Instead of getting some much needed sleep before my day job, I watched this entire series in one long binge through.

The series has strong acting mostly across the board, with worthwhile characterizations, and a strong core antagonist, accompanied by memorable cinematography and set-design. Simply put, the Squid Game really looks great, and has this immediate iconography about it, where it feels like, even though it came out of scenic nowhere, feels already like a proper classic.

There are some criticisms you could make, and they’d be valid. It isn’t the most original concept, with some comparing it to a lot of others (as I did), but, again, I would argue it goes further than all of them, not only making for a fun high-concept, but finding depth in its characterizations. The best way I can think to compare it is that it feels similar to Stranger Things, in a way, where you can see its influences, but you appreciate its new additions. Many other series’ like Squid Game walked so it could run.

Some storytelling can feel cliched. This, I feel, really applies to the final few episodes of the series, where all of its reveals, while executed well, were predictable and kind of goofy, or worse, cheapened moments I thought had a real emotional weight to them.

Overall, the Squid Game is a real treat that I’d recommend. Some of us, I understand, love to be the contrarian. The Squid Game found mainstream success, and thereby, there will be many of us who overlook it or drop it immediately into the “overrated” pile. Sometimes, you legitimately feel that way. That in mind, I am really happy I watched it and enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s nice to be a part of the crowd and that does not happen all that often in the horror genre, especially not with South Korean cinema.

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