South Korean thriller series “Squid Game” has become Netflix’s hottest new show just in time for spooky season.
In its nine episodes, each with nearly an hour runtime, “Squid Game” is packed full of heart-pounding moments, addictive thrills, and graphic violence that viewers just can’t seem to look away from.
The show is a social satire in which hundreds of desperate, destitute, down-on-their-luck people agree to compete in kids’ games in pursuit of an around $40 million prize. As the contest progresses—starting off with a game of Red Light, Green Light in which losers are shot by snipers—it becomes increasingly clear that the games are a matter of life or death.
“I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life,” the show’s director, Hwang Dung-hyuk, told Variety. “But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life. As a survival game it is entertainment and human drama. The games portrayed are extremely simple and easy to understand. That allows viewers to focus on the characters, rather than being distracted by trying to interpret the rules.”
The story follows single father Seong Gi-hun (played by South Korean actor Lee Jung-jae), a down-on-his-luck gambler who is approached by a stranger who offers him a chance to win a cash prize for playing games. After agreeing and subsequently being drug to a deserted island, Gi-hum and his fellow contestants find out the stakes of the games: play—and win—or die.
Since its late September release date release, the psychological thriller shot to the Top 10 Netflix shows in the U.S. after two days. On Sept. 21, four days after its release, it had reached the #1 spot. It also boasts an impressive 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average audience score of 87%. Even more impressive is the fact that this sudden and violent popularity is mostly a result of word-of-mouth—people everywhere are talking about “Squid Game,” especially on Twitter:
“Squid Game” is as much a commentary on the extremely competitive nature of Korean entertainment and society than it is of capitalism or human nature. Stress and struggle, it seems, are great aspects of life to build a horror show off of.
“Outwardly, Korean entertainment seems to be doing very well,” Hwang said. “But South Korean society is also very competitive and stressful. We have 50 million people in a small place. And, cut off from the continent of Asia by North Korea, we have developed an island mentality. Some of that stress is carried over in the way that we are always preparing for the next crisis. In some ways, it is a motivator. It helps us ask what more should be done. But such competition also has side-effects.”
No matter the meaning behind the show, there’s no doubt that “Squid Game” has taken the internet—and some viewers’ nightmares—captive.
“There’s a certain thrill to being as shocked and as horrified as the characters in each episode of the series… That’s intoxicating, even if it is rooted in such darkness, and people want to share that high,” wrote reviewer Kevin Fallon. “Someone convinced me to traumatize myself with this show, so now I’m going to pass that on until we’re all collectively disturbed together.”
Just in time for Halloween festivities, too.