Flicks With Nicki – Death by Squid Game – Decaturish
While Squid Game isn’t entirely unique, Korea’s Netflix hit is different. It is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and the Japanese movie Battle Royale (2000). In these stories, children must fight to survive. We are fascinated by the loss of innocence and the descent into animal behavior. Squid Game twists this idea by showing us adults in a survival tale where they have to win childhood games to stay alive. Instead of fighting in the wild, this story takes place in immaculate walls. Players sleep in an oversized nursery. The arenas are neon playgrounds. The stairs leading to the games create a vibrant and disturbing maze. Games for children are for adults, and losing means death.
Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-Jae) is a divorced gamer whose growing debts prevent him from caring for his 10-year-old daughter and sick mother. When a well-dressed pro offers Gi-Hun a chance to make money with a straightforward play, he jumps at the chance, even if the penalty is a series of humiliating slaps to his face. Gi-Hun then wants a chance at another high-stakes game with a much bigger payoff. That night, he is taken to a secret location and to the Squid Game.
Numbered 001 to 456, players don matching turquoise tracksuits. Faceless guards wear pink hoodies and their rank is indicated by a circle, square or triangle on their masks. A voice explains that the players are all in debt, but will be treated equally to win a 45 billion (40 million US) chance. If you survive six days of six games, you win. The first game is a simple turn of red light, green light and the arena is a playground. The difference between Squid Game and the version of your youth? Here, if you lose, you get shot. It quickly becomes bloody.
The show involves alliances between the players. Gi-Hun has the last number 456 and takes pity on the elderly and terminally 001 player Oh Il-Nam (O Yeong-Su). He sees his friend Sang-Woo (Park Hae-Soo) who went to the best college but is now wanted for financial crimes. Player 067 Sae-Byeok (Jung Ho-Yeon) has escaped North Korea and wants the money to save her brother. Player 199 Ali (Anupam Tripathi) is a young married father from Pakistan. Other characters include a gang of thugs, a crooked doctor, a cunning and accomplice woman, a religious fanatic, and a cop who sneaks to the mysterious island in search of his lost brother. Players are terrorized by the ruthless guards and the Frontman controlling the game.
Is it wrong in a survival game to try to survive? What’s the right mix of selfishness, humanity and compassion? What terrifies us? Not the shadows of a haunted house, but the vivid colors of a giant Pee-Wees Playhouse and childhood games that kill.
I wanted to like Squid Game. I wanted to take care of the characters. I could not. I enjoyed the other survival stories better. Agatha Christie wrote a classic mystery in 1939. The novel now titled And Then There Were None features eight people who travel to an island and die one by one. Horror and monster movie treasures follow the same trope. By the time we get to the end of the movie, there will only be one, and that’s usually the main protagonist we’re looking for. When the story is well done, we care about the whole. In Aliens (1986), I cried when Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) made the ultimate sacrifice. In Predator (1987), I squeezed my heart when Dillon (Carl Weathers) fell in battle. I felt very moved while watching another Korean horror series, Sweethome (2020). Also found on Netflix, Sweethome includes some superior gore, but with a cast of characters close to my heart. In Squid Game, I felt little for the characters.
I am so far removed from a set of marbles that the chilling echo of the stones does not have the weight it should. Death is so common in “Squid Games” that it loses its meaning. Blood is splashing everywhere. We’re looking at 455 deaths (actually more), but they feel meaningless. Everyone is going to die. This is not a spoiler. It has been clear from the start that someone is a liar, that someone will try to win at all costs, and that someone’s death is meant to affect us. The Frontman is our Darth Vader, apparently within minutes of a whisper, Luke, I’m your father. Ali is comparable to Rue in The Hunger Games. Gi-Hun is player 456, the Omega. The symbolism is predictable. The good thing is that the symbols make the story easy to digest.
Even if I didn’t care about Squid Game, I wouldn’t call it bad. It is derived from other dystopian allegories. Yes, it’s bloody. So much blood. Sometimes it’s insensitive. At other times, it’s tedious. The story unfolds painfully slowly, but Netflix has a 1.5x speed option. I used it. The twists and turns are evident from a mile away. I still tried to take advantage of it. I worried less about the plot and let my eyes appreciate the playful approach to horror. Caskets appear as oversized gift boxes. Costumes should be easy to replicate for Halloween. I hope to see at least one triangular guard at the end of October. Squid Game may be light on terror and brimming with blood, but it’s colorful in its execution. I survived it. Class C +.
Nicki Salcedo is a resident of Decatur and originally from Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mother.
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