Squid Game is the latest Netflix tv show that’s taking the streaming world by storm. Currently on track to becoming Netflix’s biggest original series of all time, is it really as good as all the hype? For me, the answer is not quite definitive, but generally, it was still an enjoyable watch.
Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the South Korean series opens on Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a divorced chauffeur and gambling addict who still lives at home with his mother. He has a daughter with his ex-wife who he barely sees, and steals from his mother to fund his gambling habit where he owes millions to loan sharks and gangsters. After a particularly bad day, Gi-hun is approached by a man at a subway station who offers him money in return for playing a children’s game. After submitting to slaps from the man every time he loses, Gi-hun walks away with money and an invitation from the man to participate in a bigger event with similar activities and the chance to win a large cash prize.
After accepting the offer, Gi-hun is drugged and transported to an unknown location, where he finds himself in a room with 455 other contestants. All sporting a number, all with large debts and with Gi-hun himself the final participant, number 456. Among the other players, Gi-hun recognises player 212 as Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a former classmate, and player 067 as Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon), a pickpocket who stole his money. He also later befriends an elderly man, player 001 (O Yeong-su), and player 199, Ali Abdul (Anupam Tripathi).
The players are overseen by masked guards in pink boiler suits who are led by a masked man in black known as the Front Man. The players learn they’ll be taking part in 6 different children’s games and are soon thrown into game number 1, Red Light, Green Light, where the Squid game’s true sadistic and lethal nature is revealed. Following on from the aftermath of the first game, the surviving players learn that each death is worth 100 million won, with a total jackpot available of 45.6 billion, and they must decide whether to carry on now that they know their lives are at stake.
Squid Game is reminiscent of a lot of other films and series we’ve seen over the past few years, from The Hunger Games and Battle Royale to Oscar-winning Parasite. This was my biggest issue with the series as a whole, as none of the component parts felt particularly original or unique, and that we’d seen them all before in some guise or another. However, this doesn’t mean it wasn’t very good or enjoyable. The overall look of the series with the vibrant, garish colours and scenery and child-like, simple games is well done and surprisingly effective. Paired with a hard-hitting message about the rich and poor divide in society, it makes for an unexpectedly engaging watch.
The slow start of episode 1 feels like a compelling drama following the unfortunate life of Gi-hun, who is quite a polarising figure and after 9 episodes, I still couldn’t quite figure out if I liked him or not. But the series really picks up when the games start, as Hwang Dong-hyuk has turned seemingly innocent children’s games into very tense and almost terrifying scenes that are incredibly bloody and gory. While, unfortunately, the outcome of each of the games isn’t particularly surprising or unpredictable, my heart was still in my throat watching the events unfold and these scenes had me glued to the screen. It took a lot of effort for me to drag myself away and not binge watch the lot in one go.
Despite the slightly predictable outcomes of each game, there are still a few twists involved with the setup of them that surprises both the players and us as watchers. For instance, some games involve players dividing into teams, but the ensuing games do not play out as you’d expect and have rather sadistic and, in one case, heart-breaking results. It’s helped by good dialogue (or so the English subtitles suggest), main characters that are interesting and conflicted and all of the cast perform incredibly well. I did feel that some of the supporting characters were a little clichéd or just plain irritating, and this spoilt my enjoyment somewhat.
What I’m most disappointed and still undecided about is the ending. The final act twist, while not exactly predictable, wasn’t particularly shocking either especially when thinking back over events of the entire series. The aftermath of the games and the set-up for another series felt a little underwhelming, although that said I would happily watch a second series should it happen.
Squid Game might be a little too similar to other films and shows that have come before it, but despite that, it’s still an incredibly engaging and exciting watch. I’m just not sure about the ending.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!