Bleak realities and polarised societies seem to be all the rage in entertainment these days. Whatever happened to escapism?
More parallels, allegory, and commentary on our post-truth world, where the only unifying factor seems to be astounding gullibility, abound in Hellbound, the new "event" miniseries from South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho (Train To Busan).
Based on Yeon's similarly-titled web comic, Hellbound transports viewers to a world where sinister apparitions appear before unfortunate individuals and declare/decree that they will be sent to hell – with the "grace period" ranging from mere seconds to many years.
And when their time is up, 6XL-size wraiths appear to smash the poor chosen ones to a pulp before shining blinding beams of light on them that leave the victims a charred lump of little more than skull and ribcage. Hmm, hulks smashing... repulsor rays... were Bruce or Tony (or Kevin) consulted in all this?
No one knows what is going on for sure and people are understandably afraid. As usual, when it comes to great mysteries, anyone seeming to have (or claiming) the most tenuous handle on events becomes an immediate rallying point for the easily confused masses.
In the case of Hellbound, it is Jung Jin-soo (Yoo Ah-in), chairman of the aptly-named spiritual cult New Truth Society (and possible string-puller of a violent related fringe group, the Proud Bo– sorry, the Arrowheads).
The six-episode first season of Hellbound is itself divided, with the first three episodes focusing on certain characters and the next three moving on to others (with some overlap).
As far as pacing and impact go, Hellbound is quite effective. It also tries to say a lot about our fragile sense of being in control of our own destinies, and how traumatic the abrupt termination of that notion would be to society as a whole.
Still, it commits the grave misstep of making nearly every character from Chairman Jung on down and across its web of intrigue thoroughly unlikeable.
This renders whatever fate Yeon has in store for them more of a relief that they're gone, rather than anything that merits mourning.
There are only two "judgments" that actually stand out (no spoilers, you'll know them when you see them) because they mirror the injustice of real life when victims of "acts of God" appear to be the innocent, purported or presumed.
And for another, the series requires characters – one character in particular, which doesn't mean there are no other dunces on display – to do incredibly stupid things (when anyone with a lick of common sense should know better) in order for the plot to progress.
This kind of shortcut/lazy writing simply grates on the nerves and warrants a judgment decree of its own, because it is just so unbelievably ridiculous.
Also, Mr Yeon, I get that you're possibly trying to portray the Arrowheads as irredeemable fascists, but the violence does get a bit too much to bear at some points. Nope, the neatly-choreographed scene where these badhats get their butts handed to them by a previous victim does not make up for this.
Really dug that final shot though, which throws up a bunch of unanswered questions that will have to go unanswered until a somewhat inevitable second season.
While it is for the most part a slick package that is convincingly acted (pretty sure the cast is neither as dopey nor as contemptible in real life as their characters come across here) and thought-provoking,
Hellbound is also guilty of a whole lot of excess – the kind that cuts corners in storytelling – which left my brain numb instead of engaged.
All six episodes of Hellbound Season One are available on Netflix.
Smash, bludgeon, burn – don't TV shows preach any more?