The Fantastic Nightmare of Netflix’s Squid Game

Squid Game, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, has been breaking streaming records across the country since its September release. In nine tense and exhilarating episodes, the show builds upon the popular dystopian genre as it follows a game designed to offer 456 debt-ridden people a chance to change their fortune. The show gives a nuanced view on what we would do in a kill-or-be- killed situation. While there have been movies similar to Squid Game such as The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, none have ever gone in quite the same direction.

The participants have to play some simple games — such as red light, green light and tug of war — each with more dramatic and deadly twists than the last. If they win, they move on to the next round one step closer to an enormous cash prize and a way out of their monetary nightmares; if they lose they are eliminated.

The driving force in the show is money, and its capacity to corrupt and isolate. Even the characters whose drives towards wealth are underlined with good intentions ultimately find that no amount of money can compensate for the ultimate price: their life. Though many of the show’s characters strive toward financial security through desperate means, the point is not to vilify the mechanisms of poverty; instead, the show holds a mirror to the underbelly of capitalism, serving to expose the determinants of economic inequality on the collective good of society.

As the set changes from city to a fantastical and nightmarish life-sized arcade game, it’s hard to deny that Squid Game is beautifully shot, written, and acted. The vibrant colors and cheerful music contrast the dark, disturbing backdrop of the games,

creating a jarring eeriness. Just as the game begins, an unsettling feeling unfurls around the characters — a chill so tangible it strikes the viewer like a sudden winter gale. A haunting array of villains — either the faceless henchmen, the fatal rules of the games, or the unknown Front Man — undo and disembowel character after character, enthralling the viewer with a compelling cocktail of dread and anticipation.

The show follows six main characters, each written with significant yet relatable flaws. Set during a dystopian present day, the world created in the show doesn’t feel too far off from our current reality, ushering viewers towards the uneasy realization that Squid Game’s universe isn’t too dissimilar from their own.

As you try to figure out the rules of the next game or which character will crack under the mounting pressure, the show becomes increasingly addictive; it is nearly impossible to look away. Even when your predictions are proven false and tossed aside, you want to keep guessing anyway.

The show’s quickfire tension compounds with the viewer’s bird’s-eye view over the deadly antics, and one begins to feel like they themselves are an alternative gamemaster as they beg the characters to follow their directions, to stay still when they need to stay still, and to run when they need to run. As soon as these pleas materialize in the brain, the answer comes, often in a fit of blood and despair so sudden it feels like an electric shock. As the show progresses, it becomes increasingly clear who will survive and who will not but that does not make watching the process any easier. In the sixth episode in particular, there are many heart-wrenching goodbyes and tough decisions. This is when even the most morally upright characters do things that are truly wrong to survive.

While I’ve gushed about the show for the last few hundred words, there were elements that I didn’t enjoy as much. Though I felt enraptured the majority of the time, there were times where the show began to drag, spending too much time with certain characters or scenes. I’ll try not to give away any spoilers, but I found the cop subplot particularly monotonous, mostly because I felt it distracted from the characters we’d been following from the beginning.

All in all, though, these minor qualms pale in comparison to the show’s successes. No show is perfect, but this one is especially relevant to today. Many people around the world are in the same situations the show’s characters are in and might make the same decisions if the opportunity presented itself. So, if you are thinking about watching Squid Game, I would recommend it — just make sure to block off about eight hours in your day to do so.