On paper, this South Korean “survive the monsterpocalypse” series on Netflix sounds a lot like another 2020 survival horror flick from the same country and streaming platform, #Alive.
So basically, it’s about people trapped in a residential highrise trying to make it out alive after coming under siege from a horde of ravenous supernatural creatures.
Hold on a minute, though. Sweet Home is way more bonkers, for one thing.
And it’s not another zombie opus – after all, we only have room in our hearts for Kingdom (and Bae Doona). No, Sweet Home is all about monsters, and its merry menagerie comes in all shapes and sizes.
We’ve got tentacled monsters, gooey monsters, giant-eye-on-a-stalk monsters, massive monsters, slithering monsters, flying monsters, well-meaning monsters, and that most despicable sort, human monsters.
Some of them look like Doug Jones in slick make-up or motion capture; others look like they just stepped out of frames from Resident Evil or Evil Dead.
In fact, more than a couple bring to mind Tom Sullivan’s frantic stop-motion animation used to such great effect on Evil Dead. What are these strange beasts, and where do they hail from?
Ah, that would be crash landing on spoiler territory, since there are many surprising revelations awaiting you once you venture into the 10 episodes of Sweet Home’s initial season (at least, we really hope there will be more).
The show is based on a webtoon of the same title by Carnby Kim and Hwang Young-chan, and developed by Studio Dragon, which is also responsible for other hit series like Love Alarm and Crash Landing On You.
Curiously, Sweet Home was also the title of a 1989 Japanese horror movie and video game largely credited with inspiring Resident Evil and other survival horror games and shows.
For the first episode at least, we see the unfolding extinction-level event through the eyes of Cha Hyun-soo (Song Kang, Love Alarm), a depressed teenager who moves into the run-down Green Home apartment building after a horrific personal tragedy.
Sweet Home’s first episode gives us a whirlwind introduction to some of the other residents, but does not waste any time before plunging Hyun-soo, his neighbours and the viewer into searing, screaming horror.
Among his companions, willing and unwilling, on this plunge into madness are: gutsy firefighter Seo Yi-keong (Lee Si-young), worried about her missing fiance; brainy medical student Lee Eun-hyuk (Lee Do-hyun); sassy bass guitarist Yoon Ji-soo (Park Gyu-young); wheelchair-bound inventor Han Du-sik (Kingdom’s Kim Sang-ho); a scarred Punisher in plain clothes, Pyeon Sang-wook (Lee Jin-wook), whom everyone presumes is a gangster; and a character whose description gives me much amusement to write – a devout, katana-wielding Christian and language teacher, Jung Jae-heong (Kim Nam-hee).
With a good deal more than just these characters, we may wonder, at first, why the need for such a sizable roster?
Well, apart from the obvious survival horror reason (monster fodder), they serve a deeper purpose that ties directly into the origin and nature of the show’s monsters.
I will not say more on that, except to comment that at times Sweet Home seems to ignore the ground rules it sets for its monsters; and at other times, it can’t even seem to settle on the nature of the apocalypse.
But mostly, it serves up some interesting food for thought between bouts of bloodletting.
The best reason for this large roll-call, however, is to provide some interesting commentary on human nature and society, and the capacity of the human animal to shape its individual destiny and affect those around it through the power of its desires.
This does not mean that things get bogged down in endless philosophical discourses – Sweet Home’s writing and directing teams weave such themes quite neatly into the narrative flow.
On the other hand, there are lapses too, such as endlessly drawn-out dramatic pauses in the middle of desperate situations and sudden jumps in continuity that are not addressed till much later.
But I didn’t really mind these because Sweet Home makes up for them by excelling in many key departments: thrills, pacing, surprises, an ever-present sense of urgency, a generally well-executed central mystery (discounting the wishy-washy nature of the monster problem), and nicely realised characters whose existence we come to value despite their flaws.
In a year when human interaction has seen a huge, painful reduction in the personal aspect of our dealings with one another, that last one might be Sweet Home’s most sterling achievement.
All 10 episodes of Sweet Home are available on Netflix.
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Let’s do the monster mash