Sunday, November 27

Hellbound: South Korea’s death festival sweeping Squid Game | TV

TThe easiest thing in the world would be to call Hellbound the new Squid Game. After all, they’re both South Korean dramas, they’re both dealing with violent deaths, and they’re both big hits on Netflix. This week, Hellbound was reported to have surpassed ratings in 80 different countries within 24 hours of opening, surpassing Squid Game as the platform’s most-watched show.

Of course, the comparisons are valid. Squid Game was such a marker, not only by placing Korean dramas firmly in the mainstream, but by underscoring the popularity of non-English shows, that it would always swallow the following. Remember how every female-led comedy was called “the new Fleabag” for years after that show’s debut? This is somewhat similar, only that screaming Koreans die in unimaginably horrible ways.

However, I desperately hope that Hellbound can get rid of such easy comparisons. Not only does it deserve to stand on its own, it’s good too. Like, unbelievably good. Better than Squid Game. Even better than most things. If you haven’t seen Hellbound, drop everything now and do so.

Its premise is simply wonderful. Out of nowhere, people are visited by a haunting face that materializes in front of them and tells them the time and date of their imminent death. And then, like clockwork, three huge CGI brutes burst in from another dimension and pulverized that person in a beating that resulted in the entire body being cremated.

Time's up ... demons descend on Hellbound.
Time’s up … demons descend on Hellbound. Photography: Netflix

A lot of other jobs would just leave it there, in fact demonic strikes have a slight sub-Marvel feel to it, but where Hellbound thrives is in its willingness to show us what’s going on around its limits. The sudden knowledge that some force is deliberately choosing certain people to be killed by supernatural beings instantly transforms the entire society as we know it. Individuals who claim to have an idea of ​​the cause are elevated to messianic status. Millions of people get hold of vast and horrible conspiracy theories. The world’s population is engulfed in a swamp of fear and confusion. Before long, the demons themselves are reduced to a sideshow.

In that sense, Hellbound is actually more reminiscent of two calmer, more cerebral shows. Although the grabbier hook “this is when you’re going to die” is straight out of The Ring, tonally it has much more in common with The Leftovers and The Returns; shows that it shed light on the fragility of the human experience, reminding us that it doesn’t take much for everything to completely fall apart. You don’t make comparisons to The Leftovers lightly, but Hellbound deserves it.

It is for this reason that I don’t think Hellbound will permanently steal the Squid Game crown. Squid Game was a show that, in hindsight, was made with an eye on the internet. The outfits, masks, and chants were surely designed to fuel memes (as they did), and it had its roots in the kind of easy nostalgia that keeps your parents on Facebook. Squid Game was big, broad, and episodic, to the extent that my six-year-old has developed a pretty good understanding of it, based purely on peripheral content on the internet.

But Hellbound is a much darker and more knotty affair. There are nods to internet culture, most notably in Arrowhead, a QAnon-like group that frequently appears to hysterically frantically yell spanks directly into a live stream, but they are featured more in doom than overture. The characters here are not just faceless numbers in tracksuits, as each has their own developed backstory. With each whiplash inducing twist, and there are many, you are forced to feel the full weight of each consequence. It is much less fun than Squid Game and much more difficult to digest.

That is why it is so worth it. Hellbound is a truly exceptional drama wrapped in only the slightest of emotions in the genre. You may currently find yourself sucked into the Squid Game, but I guarantee that, of the two, it is the show that will still be talked about a decade from now.

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