If you have been scrolling through social media in the last two weeks, chances are that you have come across at least one reference to Squid Game. This Korean survival thriller series dropped on Netflix two weeks ago and now, it has the chance of becoming the most popular show on the streaming platform.
When the prize money is 45.6 billion dollars and all you have to do to win is play six children’s games, who would not sign up? That is exactly what 456 desperate and broke people thought when they signed up (voluntarily) to play in a competition called Squid Game. But they missed out on one detail before signing the contract: elimination means death. Squid Game is really just Takeshi’s Castle or Wipeout with death by gunshots.
While shows based on survival games are not new, Squid Game stands out in its ability to churn out twist after twist. The show never lets up over its nine episodes and is able to shock the viewer at every turn. Creator-director Hwang Dong-hyuk establishes early on that no one is safe in the competition.
The series can be a lot to stomach as it takes seemingly normal things and makes them shockingly disturbing. Simple games like carving shapes out of a honeycomb and tug-of-war result in mass deaths as people fail to complete the task.
Everything about the show is questionable, including its unlikely protagonist Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a poor chauffeur and gambling addict who enters the competition to provide for his 10-year-old daughter and later, his diabetic mother. He is joined by former friend Sang-Woo (Park Hae-soo), pickpocket Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon), and illegal Pakistani immigrant Ali (Anupam Tripathi). Gi-hun also forms a close bond with contestant 001 (O Yeong-su), a frail man who is battling dementia and a brain tumour.
Squid Game is really a metaphor for classism and capitalism. With poor and desperate people competing, who have no say in the food they are served, bedtimes, and even the use of a restroom. In stark contrast, the people who watch the games for pleasure are extremely wealthy and they bet on the participant’s lives while sipping on expensive whiskey and are adorned with golden masks.
The best thing about the series is not the games but the drama and interpersonal conflicts that take place during those six days. While the games bring plenty of chilling and nail-biting moments, unexpected events take place in the dormitories where the participants sleep. Alliances are formed just as quickly as they break, showcasing that each of them is on their own. With betrayals, suicides, and violent deaths taking place constantly, the trauma is endless.
This is accentuated further by an eerie but fantastic background score by composer Jung Jae-il.
One of the few places where Squid Game feels weak is the introduction of the VIPs. In true Hunger Games-esque fashion, these elite members watch the participants trying to survive the deadly games from an extravagant screening room. The flat dialogues and poor delivery make it underwhelming, bordering on clichéd.
If you look past the emotionally turbulent and shocking nature of Squid Game, it is really just an uncomfortable tale about the realities of the society we live in. And if you are on a survival drama kick after Squid Game, here is a list of seven more things that you can watch:
Alice in Borderland (2020)
Much like Squid Game, this series focuses on a group of individuals in Tokyo who must participate in deadly games chosen from a deck of cards. While hiding from a group of cops, a gamer Arisu and his two friends are transported into an alternate reality. Here, Tokyo is an abandoned ghost city and the trio is forced to compete in a series of dangerous games and quests in order to survive.
3% (2016- Present)
This Brazilian series is set in a dystopian world where the elite and privileged live on an affluent island while the poor live among squalor in a place called Inland. Every year, 20-year-old residents from Inland get a chance to go to the island if they pass a series of tests. However, the tests are intense and deadly and only 3% of the competitors emerge successful.
Battle Royale (2000)
Battle Royale is a Japanese film about a group of high school students who are taken to a remote island to compete with each other in lethal games until only one of them is left standing. Founded by a totalitarian government, the game is used as a means to curb juvenile delinquency. The movie is a cult classic that served as the inspiration for The Hunger Games and several popular video games.
This Canadian film focuses on six strangers who end up in identical cubic cells and have no recollection of how they got there. They realise that they are stuck in a maze and some of the rooms are set up with threatening traps. All of them have to rely on their special skills and talents to leave the place. As they try to escape the maze, tensions arise and secrets are revealed causing them to turn on each other. A Japanese remake of the film is slated to release on October 22.
Ready or Not (2019)
Starring Samara Weaving and Adam Brody, this movie is about a newly-wed woman whose in-laws tell her to choose a children’s game to play from a series of cards after the wedding ceremony. When the bride chooses hide-and-seek, it is revealed that the seemingly innocent game has a sinister twist where her new family plans to kill her as part of a family ritual.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Based on the books written by Suzanne Collins, this wildly popular film stars Jennifer Lawrence as the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. In a dystopian future, the nation of Panem is split into 12 districts. Each year, a boy and girl are chosen from the districts to compete in the Hunger games – a dangerous event that is televised for people to watch. When her younger sister Primrose is chosen to compete, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead and finds herself pitted against highly-trained and deadly competitors from other districts.
Gymkata is an excellent choice when you need a break from graphic violence. Critically and universally panned, the film has a rating of 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film follows a gymnast Jonathan, who is approached by an American secret agency to travel to a remote country and enter a deadly competition. However, in the last 900 years, no outsider has won the tournament. Known for its poor visuals, ridiculous action sequences, and terrible setting, the film is now watched ironically for providing unintentional comic relief.