Sweet Home Review

Survival Horror Feb 21, 2021

Well, hello there!

Welcome ghouls and gals to my first official review as The Fright Queen. Writing a horror blog has been something I've been mulling over for the past few years now. And welp, there's no time like a global pandemic to make you reevaluate the things that are holding you back.  With the imaginary obstacles (self-doubt, imposter syndrome, the anticipation of uber-religious family members calling me a demon seed again, etc) behind me, here I am!  For my inaugural review and all subsequent ones really, I'm going to try to strike a balance between giving you my honest opinion without ruining the entire show for you.  But I will always stress that you should watch, read, play, or experience something for yourself.  I can only tell you if I liked it, not if you will.

If you're like me, you want to know what you're getting yourself into before you watch a show in case something doesn't sit well with your stomach.  If you're like me, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and IMDb are two of your favorite friends.  If you're like me, you're interested in the story underneath the story.  But let's be honest, if you're like me, you'll want a TLDR section at the bottom.  And in that case, you'll be happily surprised.

Now that we have that out of the way, go grab some tea, snuggle into a comfy chair, and let's begin.

What to Know About Sweet Home

Sweet Home is a South Korean post-apocalyptic TV show based off of the 2017 webtoon of the same name by Kim Kan-Bi* and Hwang Young-Chan* that was picked up by Netflix and broadcast to viewers around the world.  With a star-studded cast, it has 10 episodes at about 45-60 minutes each and was released on December 18, 2020.  In addition, there is talk of a second season, but that hasn't been formally announced yet.

*East Asian names: The family name is first; the given name is second.  This will be standard for all future posts with such naming conventions.

Warning, this title includes: reading subtitles (unless you watch the dubbed version, for which I will absolutely judge you–hey Dad👋🏾),  societal injustice, corruption, betrayal, gardening accidents, infections, quarantine, no internet, monsters, broken bones, suicide, attempted homicide, homicide, torture, child abuse, child death, adult death, car accidents, body transformation, copious amounts of blood, nosebleeds, attempted necrophilia, irony, bad luck, sacrifice, fire, explosions, burn scars, air canons, swords, guns, spears, crossbows, Molotov cocktails, justice, redemption, martial law, democracy, domestic violence, toupees that inevitably fall off, wine, soju, alcoholism, capitalism, and random twists.

The Players

If you're a fan of K-dramas like I am, you will undoubtedly recognize a majority of the cast.  It might be the reason why you decide to watch, like it was for me.  In the interest of time, here are the top-billed cast.  The lead protagonist and new resident of the Green Home apartment building, Cha Hyun-Su, is played by actor Song Kang.  You might have seen him in shows like Love Alarm and Navillera.  Next up, we have the firefighter with a tragic story, Seo Yi-Kyung played by Lee Si-Young (my main reason for watching).  You might have seen her in No Mercy and Lookout.  The impossible to kill (maybe) Pyeon Sang-Wook is played by Lee Jin-Wook.  You might have seen him in Goodbye Mr. Black and The Time That I Loved You.  The stoic and book smart leader Lee Eun-Hyeok is played by Lee Do-Hyun, whom you might have seen in Hotel del Luna and 18 Again.  And finally, the realistic musician Yoon Ji-Su is played by Park Gyu-Young.  You might have seen her in It's Okay to Not Be Okay and Wretches.

Lucky for us, this stellar cast all came to slay.  Their performances were all top-notch and the casting was superb.  If you get the chance, definitely check out their other works.  There are so many more cast members that you've likely seen, so definitely give the full cast list a look over when you can.

The Story

So what is the plot?  Why should you bother watching yet another post-apocalyptic show?  Well for starters, the story is quite unique.  We begin the show with Hyun-Su moving into the Green Home apartment building.  He's a teenager, he's alone, and most importantly, he's intent on taking his own life.  Before he goes through with the deed, a strange infection makes its way through the populace.  Trapped inside the apartment building, Hyun-Su and the remaining residents have to figure out how to survive in their new reality.  What's different about this story is what the infection actually is.  Instead of getting bitten by a zombie and turning your neighbors' brains into a five-course meal, this infection has more to do with your intentions and your effect.  Afflicted people turn into blood-thirsty monsters or are able to maintain a shred of their humanity and become something else entirely.  Without giving too much away, your negative emotions will be your undoing.

The residents of the Green Home apartment building | Credit: GMA Network

From the first moment when the residents realize they are trapped with no realistic way out, they band together to find ways to keep the lights on, food in their bellies, safety from the monsters outside and the ones roaming the upper floors, and how to keep from killing one another.  If anything, the social discourse that this story evokes is more thought-provoking than I would have anticipated.  For instance, do you really know your neighbors?  How do you deal with survivor's guilt?  How long does it take for society to crumble?  What would happen to me if my bad thoughts turned me into a monster?  And then there are the more serious questions, such as what does justice look like?  Is it an eye for an eye?  Do the ends justify the means?  And finally, is there redemption?

Like several post-apocalyptic shows before it, Sweet Home weaves together the overarching hypothesis: can the cost of survival be too high?  What do we sacrifice in order to survive?  That concept shows up throughout the 10-episode season in many instances, mainly when the shows shed a light on what or who we lose while trying to stay alive and the choices that we make in the name of survival.  Most times that deep dive hit the mark, a couple of times it didn't.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Here's what worked, what didn't work, and what made no sense.

What Worked

A year+ into a global pandemic might have some of you in your feels about infections, quarantines, and forced isolation.  Normally, I am too.  I tend to shy away from movies like Contagion now because it's too close for comfort and positively can't stand when people cough without covering their mouths in TV shows like Alta Mar (yes, I watched season 3).  But Sweet Home actually did a good job in this regard.  They did a good job capturing the anxiety of not knowing who is going to be infected next and what to do with those who are infected now.  To isolate or not, that is the question.  And then what happens when someone who has been isolated is no longer a threat to the greater good?  Do you leave them in isolation because they are dangerous or do you release them because it is the right thing to do?  Why this aspect of the overarching theme particularly matters is because of the mirror it holds up to human nature about fear.  The residents fear the infected people despite them not being able to transmit the "curse."  They fear them because they are walking, breathing reminders that anyone could turn next; a reminder of their crushing mortality in the face of immortal monsters who kill for pleasure. They fear them because at any moment, they can lose their humanity and kill anyone and everyone in their path.

They also hit the nail on the head with the morally grey area of deciding who to save and what it means to put yourself at risk to save others.  There's a fine line that all post-apocalyptic stories straddle: should I save the person screaming for help even if it will put myself and many others in danger?  What if I know that person?  What if I'm related to that person?  Personally, I know that thought exercise would eat me alive.  So I'm thankful this isn't our reality.  This aspect of the overarching theme deals with a person's worth versus the greater good.  What do we lose as humans when the needs of many outweigh the needs of one?  What would we lose if the firefighters, soldiers, and first responders didn't put their lives on the line to save one person?  But on the flip side, why should many (or rather anyone) die for the selfishness of one?  The Walking Dead has a habit of killing off characters who are too quick to forgive, act too humanely, and are too soft.  The way they address the concept of sacrifice and worth is brutal, swift, and black and white.  It is set up to let you know from the get-go that no, you would not survive the zombie apocalypse because you care too much about people.  The way Sweet Home addresses sacrifice and worth leaves you questioning whether you would have made the right decision and if there even was one to begin with.

The Christian swordmaster Jung Jae-Heon taunting some beasties | Credit: Cosmo

What Didn't Work

One particular thing that didn't work, or rather was a missed opportunity (and I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who hasn't read the webtoon or seen what's to come in a potential season 2), is the notion that not all infected/monsters kill people.  From the trailer, we know that Hyun-Su gets infected, so that's not a spoiler.  But for the whole season, he struggles up the difference between good and bad, those who kill and those who protect, help, and are benign.  Yet when the residents are met with a potential ally, they decide that all monsters kill.  That sentiment goes against everything that the group has actually been grappling with since the monsters first showed up: who do you trust and who's worthy of saving.  They were in a growth trajectory and decided to backslide, setting in motion a cascade of events that would queue us up for a season 2.  Maybe another hefty paycheck from Netflix is reason enough.  Or maybe us viewers like the drama, horror, and intrigue over the logic and reasoning of asking questions before you act.

To be fair, I really liked the show, all except for the last episode.  There's so much packed in and so many questions left unanswered that it left a bad taste in my mouth, which I can't talk about without spoilers.  At the end of the day, what didn't work for me were uncharacteristic decisions made by the actual characters. Despite the fact that character development was amazing, I found myself yelling at the screen "what are you doing?!"  I thought I knew these characters, their motivations, their crosses to bear.  The last episode had me questioning if I knew them at all.  While I don't agree with some of the choices that were made, I can agree that fear, anxiety, stress, and grief make you do foolish things.

Seo Yi-Kyung having a frank discussion | Credit: Soompi

What Made No Sense

I am a fan of end-of-season twists.  It keeps eyes glued to the screen and new content funded.  What I am not a fan of are twists that come from left field that completely undo an entire season of stellar character development all for the sake of a cheap gotcha moment.  At the end of the season, I felt like I was watching a drama where the guy finally wakes up from a coma only to not remember who he is.  The dreaded amnesia.  Now, this is NOT WHAT HAPPENED.  It just made me feel like that.  The twist felt cheap and lazy, and ultimately cost it a star (or rather a red coffin).  If there's a season 2 and it turns out that there is a plausible explanation for the twist, I'll eat my words, until then... no thank you.

Final Thoughts (TLDR)

I'm giving Sweet Home 4 out of 5 coffins. Here's why:

• The acting and casting were superb and should be commended. Character development was right on target, for the most part.

• The story was unique: human malice, bad thoughts, and ill-will manifested unstoppable monsters that brought about the apocalypse.

• The show made me think and question tough philosophical concepts such as justice and redemption, the worth of a life, and what it means to sacrifice.

• Despite parallels with the current pandemic, Sweet Home offered me the escape that I wanted in the form of a neat monster horror show.

• The end didn't stick the landing and left way too many unanswered questions/unresolved items in an effort to set us up for a second season that may or may not get funded.

I think the show is worth watching.  It's entertaining, relatively short, and a good take on what could happen in post-apocalyptic Seoul if the internet went out and a tentacle monster kept you holed up inside an apartment building with your neighbors.  And you thought fighting over toilet paper was bad.

Lee Eun-Hyeok about to throw a molotov cocktail | Credit: The Straits Times

Remember, at the end of the day, these are my opinions.  I'd like to know if you agree with me but would love (even more) to know if you disagree and why. Experience this title for yourself and be your own judge.

'Til next time!


Source: asianwiki.com | Cute interview with the cast

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