Squid Game: horror thriller that takes the whole world by storm

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This is the basis of Squid Game – the South Korean show currently number one on Netflix in the world – where debt-ridden gamers register to play six games for a cash prize of 45.6 billion won. (around 30 million euros).

The fine print: if you lose, you get killed.

In the first episode, part of Grandma’s Footsteps (known as Red Light, Green Light in South Korea) leaves bodies stacked up as the shocked winners advance to the second round. It’s a blood-splattered child’s play – a kind of Takeshi Castle with deaths, or Seen with elegant shell costumes.

A well-written horror thriller

If you can take the events of the first episode, what follows is a well-written horror thriller that has viewers captivated.

The nine-part series is the first Korean show to reach # 1 on the US streaming platform, and is currently a smash hit here.

Its success will come as no surprise to a generation of viewers who have become addicted to the murderous dystopian series The Hunger Games and cult favorite Battle Royale.

Viewers find themselves invested with the fate that awaits the characters of Squid Game. Photo: Youngkyu Park

But the backdrop for Squid Game is South Korea’s current and very real wealth inequality. Its closest comparison is another South Korean drama, the 2019 Oscar-winning zeitgeist film. Parasite, where the country’s class divisions led to a bloody conclusion.

Like this movie, the show’s analogy is sometimes exaggerated – especially when the cliché-rich viewers of the game are introduced – but it’s an instantly catchy premise.

Yes, games are terrifying but how much worse are they than the half-lives of those who live in endless debt?

Cliffhangers worthy of interest

Masterful cliffhangers give the series much-needed appeal and the sets are horribly inventive, but it’s the show’s eclectic cast that keeps viewers watching.

Our unlikely heroes are led by Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a gambling addict with a heart of gold, and his slippery childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a disgraced banker who flees from the police.

One of the highlights of the series is watching the icy and resourceful pickpocket Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) – a North Korean escapee trying to save his estranged family – learning to trust those who are there. ‘surround.

This group of rags offers a surprisingly soft heart for a show that features the regular murder of hundreds of people and a subplot of organ trading.

Nights in the dorms – where relationships are formed and unraveled – offer quieter drama, often more shocking than the playroom itself.

And Lee is so grinning that he single-handedly brings back the levity whenever the terror gets almost too much (which is often the case).

Tap into our obsession with game shows

Smarter, Squid Game taps into a cultural obsession with game shows. The players are watched, but the spectator is only a step away, and it is impossible not to put yourself in their shoes.

An episode of stories makes it clear that anyone can get into debt through bad luck, while the visuals are filled with familiar touchstones. There are maze-like hallways, jingling soundtracks, and oversized slides, like the world’s worst children’s party.

In this world, writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk poses compelling dilemmas: Would you betray your friend to escape death? – and let them play in scary stretches.

Netflix has already experienced interactive drama with its 2018 film Black mirror: Bandersnatch, in which viewers could make choices that affected the plot. A sort of choose-your-own TV version of the books, his own skill sometimes came at the expense of storytelling.

Viewers are invested in the fates of the characters

Squid Game shows that you don’t need on-screen choices for viewers to get involved in the characters’ fates. Even without an interactive element, there is a relatability here that probably explains its huge popularity.

The stakes are higher here, but the emotions are viscerally familiar, tapping into the politics of the playing field at every turn. In one episode, there’s a heart-wrenching scene about selecting team members before a match starts.

Even without the possibility of death, doesn’t being chosen last always feel like the end of the world?


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