Movies, television shows, and music from South Korea have increasingly become popular to Western audiences. KPOP, specifically bands like BTS, continues to sweep the charts, while Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite made Oscar history in 2020 as the first-ever non-English foreign language film to win Best Picture. Netflix’s Squid Game continues this trend. The Korean-produced streaming series debuted on September 17, 2021, and soon after, viewers could not stop watching and talking about it. Take, for instance, the slew of memes that made their way through social media, which only viewers of the show would fully understand. Soon, the series garnered more viewers who did not want to be left out of the conversation, especially with the potential for spoilers. Netflix has called the show the streaming service’s most popular show yet. Despite the memes, while Squid Game has its comedic moments the show is far from a comedy. Netflix has categorized the show under thrillers and dramas, and it has a TV rating of MA. But just how scary is Squid Game?
The story itself doesn’t deal with ghosts, monsters, or anything of the supernatural. Instead, Squid Game focuses on its ensemble of tragically poor humans who are forced to act and make morally horrid decisions. In modern-day Korea, Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) is a compulsive gambler who has accumulated debt from a number of people — a kingpin, his mother, his friends. He is also divorced and struggles to maintain a life with his daughter. When a mysteriously dapper man in a suit (Gong Yoo) offers Gi-hun the opportunity to play in a series of games for a large sum of money, enough to pay off his debts and secure a financial future for him and his daughter, Gi-hun accepts. But once he enters the games, he finds out that the horrors of the real world don’t compare to what the games have in store for him and others.
Gi-hun is joined by 455 other players willing to play a series of challenges, based on childhood games, for a jackpot. They are all in dire economic circumstances. Joining Gi-hun is his childhood friend Cho Sang-Woo (Park Hae-soo), who supposedly went to university to pursue a successful business career but actually has made some shady financial dealings. Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) is a North Korean defector who crossed into South Korea with her little brother. Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi) is a Pakistani migrant worker with a family whose boss continues to withhold his salary. The last member of Gi-hun’s haphazardly assembled crew is an elderly man with a brain tumor, Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su). Together, they soon find out the games they’re playing are not just childhood games, but extremely violent, perverse versions that are designed to test the players’ survival skills less they want to die.
Akin to the Saw franchise, the scariest moments of Squid Game not only involve bloody, gruesome violence — gun violence, physical violence, and even psychological violence — but are scary for viewers who ask themselves, “What would you do in this situation?” Throughout the series, we see just how willing some characters are to either experience pain or inflict it onto others, all for a sum of money. To them, living in debt and poverty in the world outside of the games is scarier than the games themselves. If you’re looking for jump scares and the supernatural, then Squid Game will disappoint. If you’re squeamish about blood and body parts—or are scared of heights—Squid Game might potentially scare you. But what Squid Game really showcases are the horrors of capitalism and how they can easily dehumanize, and demonize, humans.
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It’s the perfect Christmas gift for fans of adult animation.
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