Netflix’s smash hit Squid Game isn’t the kind of show you’d expect to leap to the world number one slot. But streaming’s latest craze is attracting a massive worldwide audience with its blend of horror, satire, and character comedy. But how gory and scary is it? Find out with some minor spoilers.
What is Squid Game?
Squid Game, which can be watched on Netflix in Korean with English subtitles or dubbed in English, comes from South Korean director and writer Hwang Dong-hyuk. His previous films have included true stories, historical dramas, and crime capers, but it’s his occasional look at the influence of power on society that informs this streaming hit.
In a tense mini-series of nine episodes, a mysterious organization collects a group of people – all facing some kind of financial crisis – to compete in a series of children’s games. The catch is that the games aren’t as innocent as they used to be, and the participants must compete until only one player’s left. When the game’s guards tell players they’ll be eliminated, they really mean it.
The show’s central character is Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-Jae. A debt-ridden gambler who accepts a mysterious offer to participate in a game that could put all his troubles behind him. When he arrives at a secret venue, he finds he has completed a set of 456 players. Soon, they all discover that they’re competing for 45.6 billion won, the equivalent of $38.7 million, and that there can only be one winner.
Squid Game has blown up for several reasons. Fascinating characters carry the drama and flashes of humor to the point that viewers find themselves rooting for unpleasant characters. The show is brilliantly directed, too, maintaining a great pace across nine hours, including plenty of twists and turns.
The story isn’t just a succession of set-piece games, and a lot happens outside them, but they are the main draw. The build-up as the players walk through an Escher-style colorful playroom to their next challenge ensures that viewers are just as caught up in finding out what game comes next.
Is Squid Game Scary?
While there are some surprising moments, Squid Game primarily works on maintaining a sense of dread. Like any survival drama, the show relies on viewers getting to know the characters. The more emotionally involved the audience is, the more scared they’ll be. As you can imagine, viewers shouldn’t get too attached.
Most scares lie in the psychology of the players and their mysterious surroundings. Viewers shouldn’t expect jump scares, but they should expect to have their nerves shredded. The tension is helped by the cliffhangers that slide between the episodes. Squid Game feels like an eight-hour film, but there’s little repetition thanks to the nature of the games and the way they’re filmed. Sometimes viewers know as much of the on-screen characters, and sometimes they have more knowledge. Either way, the audience is expertly manipulated before discovering how players do or don’t get through a game.
There’s an abrupt and immediate end awaiting many players, which is more often than not gunfire. The generous application of blood and brilliant sound design keeps the audience’s nerves on edge. This isn’t a show that wants its viewers or its characters to get too comfortable. A game of marbles has never been so tense.
Squid Game works as a thriller, but a lot of its horror is in its social commentary. It’s a worthy addition to South Korea’s recent satirical output, including Bong Joon Ho’s Academy Award-winning Parasite.
Is Squid Game Gory?
Squid Game is not for the squeamish, although its blunt use of violence and gore has a point. Some deaths draw on imagination as much as graphic blood splashes. However, there are plenty of those.
Netflix includes a disclaimer that the show contains scenes of suicide, references to sexual violence, violence, and injury detail. The injuries some characters receive – and how they deal with them – are not for the faint-hearted. As the number of contestants dwindles, the blunt violence doesn’t get any less startling.
Gore often acts as punctuation throughout the games and any moments of intensity never feel misjudged. In the first episode, viewers have to wait a good 45 minutes for the gore to kick in properly. Anyone watching will know if they can take what the remaining eight hours have in store when it does. The balance is struck brilliantly between the surreal and the real. Some gore is ridiculously over the top. Other flashes of violence tug at the heartstrings. Viewers shouldn’t expect the violence to stay in the games, either. There’s little respite as characters’ regular lives, and various sub-plots include horrifically good makeup and graphic body horror.
Who would like Squid Games?
Squid Game sits in the tradition of action survival thrillers, particularly in the legacy of the genre-defining Battle Royale (2000). Anyone who’s seen anything in the survival game genre, like The Hunger Games (2012), will be familiar with the last-person-standing concept. It follows films like Running Man (1987) or Death Race (2008) and includes similar elements of dystopian entertainment. As a mini-series, it plays tricks seen in mystery shows like Lost, Manifest, or Dark.
Squid Game’s concept recalls the Saw franchise, although these aren’t torture traps. Similar to Saw, which had a commentary on justice and punishment running through it, Squid Game explores the ideas of social justice and power. Viewers used to psychological and cerebral horror will see elements of Hannibal Lecter’s psychopathic selection of victims in there too.
That said, Squid Game isn’t just for fans of horror. As the show is on track to be Netflix’s most-watched show, the answer is that almost everyone’s enjoying it. You can catch Squid Game now as a Netflix exclusive.