Squid Game (2021) Season 01 Series Review

Squid Game's approach to both physical and emotional violence is absolutely brutal, leaving no human degradation unexplored.

South Korean horror and thriller concepts have intoxicated American audiences for years with features like The Host, Lady Vengeance and Train to Busan. The recent success of Kingdom on Netflix demonstrated that these same consumers would devour hyper-violent content over the course of multiple episodes despite subtitles.

At times, rating systems in the United States can skew towards older audiences based on sexual content or nudity while off-screen bloodshed can be tamed towards a more demographically abundant, and highly desirable crowd, in the TV-14 sphere. Squid Game, which has been immensely popular, earned its MA rating by being visually savage, thematically vicious and ultimately deeply thoughtful about the human condition.

Squid Game follows a group of desperate characters, in varying degrees of massive debt, pitting them against one another in potentially lethal versions of childhood games, though as the game begins, no one is aware that they are risking their lives. “Red Light, Green Light,” the first episode, quickly sets the tone for the show in a few ways. A mechanized mannequin, more than twice the height of a man but designed like a female child, stands at one end of a large pen. A voice intones over a speaker the very simple rules. Moving after the robot says “red light” will result in elimination.

456 contestants enter into the play space, some of whom are familiar with one another and frivolously engage with each other. When the first shot rings out, killing one of the participants, no one is clear on what exactly has happened. It’s only when they see him curled on the field of packed dirt, gagging up blood, that they begin to understand. What quickly follows is the predictable panic of all the other players, flinching, backstepping, running, moving.

The resulting slaughter, with automated rifles sniping the life out of the stampeding crowd, is reminiscent of livestock being butchered, a juxtaposition Squid Game intentionally parallels throughout. The tableau is made more frightening by the real-time adaptation of the players who cling to the hope that they might survive by remaining rigidly still, despite the combustible percussion of gunshots, the screams or pleas of the dead and the dying, and their own frantic breathing. When the carnage concludes, more than half of the entrants litter the field of play before being packaged and lumbered to an on-site crematorium.

Whether it’s brains exploding from skulls, limbs becoming distorted by plummeting impacts, or flesh getting shredded by razors of glass, sometimes in combination, Squid Game does not pan away. Alongside all the gore is also a pathos of humanity’s active failure to treat one another humanely. Time and time again, the characters are given choices of whether or not to participate in the destruction of one another, and time and time again, they choose violence to achieve the end they desire, which in this case is a fortune. The regulators of the game ensure that everyone involved is complicit in the massacre, revealing that many who came in with high ideals make selfishly common decisions when the barrel of the gun is aimed in their direction.

One scene in particular, where an old man suffering from dementia is manipulated by his friend to fail and therefore die so that he may save himself, is difficult to watch. The moments where women are marginalized due to their perceived lack of physical strength, and therefore condemned to die, expose how thin the ideas of equality actually are when confronted with the tension of self-preservation. Ageism, misogyny, racism and classism are all examined through the patina of bloodshed and should be considered as mature content in every sense of the word.

The first season of Squid Game is now streaming on Netflix. At this time, a second season has not yet been announced.

Source: CBR

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