Squid Game

At their most desperate, hundreds of people strapped for money are manipulated into a competition to play children’s games for a large cash prize, unknowingly risking their lives in Netflix's number one global hit, Squid Game.

The show creates a brilliant opening about the struggles of an everyday guy, Seong Gi-Hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), who has just about given up on life before taking the opportunity offered to him to join this competition. Throughout the show, his character is in a moral conflict of joining with those he knows are better for his game and helping those with almost no shot, despite being an underdog himself.

Although director Hwang Dong-hyuk in no way shies away from the hyper-violent elements of the show, it never feels out of place and works well to drive the show’s premise in showing the raw cruelty people are capable of. Even amidst the violence, the show somehow finds a way to remain largely a character piece and social commentary on what money and survival can drive people to do.

Even though some have criticized this use of violence and gore as romanticizing the loss of human life, I would argue it does quite the opposite, and only includes these elements to show the horrors in its truest form, which is far from the “torture porn” some have used to describe it. Every death is portrayed as heart wrenching, even among the nameless extras and most unlikable characters in the show, which causes the audience to feel horrified by the inhumanity within, and even outside, the game.

Among the standout performances of almost the entire Squid Game cast, HoYeon Jung and Anupam Tripathi‘s characters were particularly compelling. Jung played the untrusting, private pickpocket number 067 and Tripathi played the very trusting, friendly Pakistani immigrant Ali Abdul. Both these characters, despite being polar opposites in personality, carry the struggle of trying to survive in a country unfamiliar to them.

Even the videography choices in the show largely set a very specific tone and intensity, as well as help to instill the personalities of each character through choice of tone. Every scene was either incredibly lively and vibrant, or dark and eerie. This element allowed it to be unnerving at very specific moments, but also keep the contradiction of an otherwise innocent environment full of color and children’s games filled with the nonchalant murder of contenstents from the faceless enforcers of the game. 

This same contrast is seen in the highly detailed set designs that clearly set an equivalent tone to the video being shot. Even the structure of the main room where they slept was designed both in set and plot as comparable to that of a schoolyard, showing how much the simplest form of human nature and societal structure is synonymous with that of an elementary school. This ranges from the environment structure to social groups and even the rules and regulations they set.

One of the things the show does best is keeping the tenseness at almost every moment. I would sometimes be holding my breath for moments at a time and other times I would forget to breathe entirely for almost every scene in an episode. This was cemented even further by the video editing choices of when to zoom in on a scene, pan out and cut from a scene or angle completely to keep the audience on edge. The soundtrack for Squid Game, composed by Jung Jae-il, even furthered this strained feeling through usually very simple, but effective tracks such as “Pink Soldiers” and “The Rope is Tied.”

Squid Game is a show that has and will continue to bring fear, tears and thought-provoking discussions among viewers all over the globe. This is a perfect show choice for anyone who is able to handle not only the physical brutality, but the psychologically draining clash of human nature and morality.

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