Squid Game haunts and thrills

By Caroline Palermo, Staff Writer
Trigger Warning: Violence, Spoilers

Imagine you are given one minute to select a corner in a game of Four Corners. It doesn’t matter whether your strategy is tiptoeing to one or loudly stomping by all the other corners to draw attention to them, you just need to pick one. When the caller announces corner three, you breathe a sigh of relief, but the image of people in corner three being mercilessly gunned down will be engraved in the back of your mind. This continues for another eight minutes, and with each round, your heart races faster and faster because the next body hitting the ground could be you. But when the ten minutes are up, you are sent back to your room, your prize for making it through that round. Now, you simply have to make it through another five rounds, hoping that you’ll be walking out with $45.6 million cash instead of in a casket. This is Squid Game.

In South Korea, Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-jae) is in a large debt. A gambler and a lousy (but well-meaning) father, he’s desperate to find money after being informed that his ex-wife will be moving to America with their daughter. So, Gi-Hun and 455 other desperate individuals agree to take part in a top-secret competition that will lead them to a generous cash prize. All they have to do is get through six rounds of nostalgic Korean children’s games without losing. Because, here, being eliminated means losing their lives without an ounce of sentiment.

Squid Game is certainly not the first survivalist thriller to capture the world’s attention— The Hunger Games films were a box office success where other dystopian adaptations could never quite amount to its success nor storyline. Squid Game, on the other hand, offers interesting commentary on society along with tasteful criticism of capitalism. Notably, how it discusses consent. 

These games are sponsored by the wealthy elite, who get to watch contestants compete — and risk their lives — for their entrainment. The competitors are pawns in a game with no names and no identifiable characteristics. They wear uniform attire in stark comparison to the elite’s gold animal masks. 

For these games to work, all 456 contestants must sign a waiver consenting to the experience and abiding by three simple rules: 

  • 1) A player is not allowed to stop playing 
  • 2) A player who refuses to play will be eliminated 
  • 3) If all the players agree to stop playing, the games are allowed to end

This contract comes into play during the second episode, when the majority of players agree to stop playing. The episode follows the players once they return to their terrible and hopeless situations in the real world. Slowly, 97% of players consent to return and the games resume. For the participants, being in the games makes little difference to their reality: they will either die playing for millions or at the mercy of the Korean streets. This reality starkly contrasts the elite who can leave at any time with no consequences. 

Squid Game is executed beautifully. This show would be easy to mess up if the writing were not so tight. Each character arc and storyline is so well done that listening to the poorly dubbed English audio is even bearable.

The acting of the show is phenomenal and the characters are visibly fleshed out in a way that connects the viewer to each personality. It is because of this connection that certain episodes like Gganbu” and “Front Man” hit so much harder. 

Each victory and death cuts deep, which adds more weight to Hwang Dong-hyuk’s message and themes about society. Even the set designs are multi-layered with art references to gruesome themes. This is what makes Squid Game so successful.

 Netflix officially announced that Squid Game was their most-watched show on the streaming platform at 111 million viewers, surpassing its predecessor, Bridgerton, by a whopping 29 million. 

This is a notable accolade not only for Netflix but also for foreign dramas altogether. Netflix is investing more of its money into foreign programming from the success of shows like Squid Game, Lupin and Dark

Recently, Disney+ announced their own slate of Korean shows with one of them starring K-pop’s Blackpink member Jisoo, hoping to copy the success of Squid Game. Even in 2019, the thriller Parasite made history at the Oscars by scoring Best Picture as a foreign film. Between the two, it has shown multiple studios that there is an audience for foreign dramas and films rather than strictly English programming.

While season two is up in the air, the record-shattering Squid Game continues to make its way into daily conversations via memes, video edits and dalgona challenges on TikTok. 

Perhaps people will never directly know if they have what it takes to survive in Squid Games, but let’s hope no one ever has to find out.