Studio: Siren Pictures Inc.
Original Run: September 17, 2021
Genres: Action, Suspense, Survival, Drama
Run Time: 32–63 minutes
Created By: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Starring: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-jun
Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits — with deadly high stakes.
Warnings: Gore, Extreme Violence, Death, Sex
I am very late to the party but I finally sat down to watch Squid Game. This has easily been one of the most talked-about shows this year, so I prepared myself to strap in and see what all the hype was about and boy, I understand why this show is so popular. I was fully hooked after the first episode and had to resist binging it in one sitting, I was absolutely shaken.
Squid Game is another entry in a line of death game survival shows built around the horrors of capitalism. It has splashes of Battle Royale and Hunger Games with an anti-capitalist message about the crushing effects of stratified social structures and wealth inequality. The “rich people are scum” message is not subtle, and it’s perfect in current political discourse in which people chant “eat the rich.”
The characters in this show are well written with so much depth and a deep understanding of the struggle of being poor. Despite the various backstories of each character, they’re all ultimately there for the same reason: debt. I felt strongly for each and every one of the characters and honestly struggled to root for anyone. The show dares to ask who deserves to win and highlights the many ways that people deal with hardship. Episode Gganbu made me cry ugly UGLY tears. Even though I knew immediately what the game would be, I felt intense anxiety throughout the entire episode. The final episode made me gasp; not many shows can unsettle me the way that this one did.
Squid Game stands out as one of the best in the genre and is wholly deserving of the attention and admiration that it garners. It is easily one of my favorite shows of the year and I am interested to see where season two well head.
Studio: Studio Dragon
Original Run: December 18, 2020
Genres: Apocalyptic, Horror, Drama
Run Time: 44-59 minutes
Created By: Netflix, Production Plan
Starring: Song Kang, Lee Jin-wook, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee
Cha Hyun-su moves into the run-down Green Home by himself. Not long after, he witnesses a disturbing sight in his neighbor’s apartment.
Warnings: Gore, Extreme Violence, Death
I didn’t expect this series to be so good but it got me, it got me so good that I binged it and then I binged it again watching it with people that I shared it with. Sweet Home was exactly the kind of character-driven horror drama that I had been craving. I was enthralled, on edge, and wondering every episode how the characters could possibly survive with such terrifying monstrosities running rampant. It was such an interesting twist to the zombie monster horror genre.
The run-down and tight hallways of the apartment complex were both scary but also had a cozy feeling. I found myself caring for most of the main cast of characters. They were a wildly silly but wholly human cast with outstanding performances by the actors. The soundtrack and visuals were stunning, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel initially but once I got adjusted to the strange animations and overall style of the show I ended up really enjoying it.
“When someone promises something and it’s nearly impossible to keep, there’s a good chance it’ll end up being a lie.”
My one complaint was how much the song Warriors by Imagine Dragons was played during every major triumphant scene. Don’t get me wrong, Imagine Dragons makes some good music and having that consistency informs the audience that something big is happening, and in a tense horror story that can bring some comfort; but for fucks sake it became tiresome to keep hearing over and over. It harkened back to old shows that had theme songs that played every episode, but it quickly wore itself out.
It’s also hard for me to tell how close it is to the original webtoon, I’ve only read the first few chapters but I think they’d be different enough that both can be enjoyed separately. In all, a great show, and it really piqued my interest in Korean horror. Nobody is making horror like South Korea right now and I am loving this new wave of appreciation for Asian horror.
This little one-shot had so much to say in just one chapter, the story felt like a hard slap. I didn’t expect to have my heart crushed in such a short number of pages. Things start in the same way that many transgender stories in fiction do, a girl meets a cute boy and helps him find himself. The two become close over their shared secret, she comes to his defense when he is bullied. It’s a step away from the fetishized M/M fiction written by cis women.
“I’ll just have to make you look even cuter.”
Transgender youths are targets of increased physical, sexual, and verbal abuse by family and peers, a sad reality that should never be ignored. Kashiwabara is bullied at school, he likes dressing as a girl and he admires his neighbor Onaga, who also takes an interest in him. While I struggled with one particularly violent scene near the end, the cold reality that “this isn’t abnormal” washed over me and it was a bitter truth to swallow.
The stigma of being a transgender woman and the lack of safety is keenly felt. What appears like a heartwarming ending left me feeling chilled, abusers are abusers no matter what mask they wear. I really admire how Shuzo Oshimi highlights the ugly side of youth with his stories. His stories are filled with imperfect people living difficult, imperfect lives, but there is something haunting and beautiful about his work.
With spooky season right around the corner I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some horror books for you all! The one genre that is the nearest and dearest to my heart has always been horror, and in a genre that is often highlighted as being misogynistic, some of the greatest horror stories of our time were written by women. While I could talk for hours about some of the famous greats like Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some of my favorite recent reads by the women that are writing for today’s readers.
Near the Bone by Christina Henry
Near the Bone has been one of my most recent reads and it cements Christina Henry’s place as an author to watch out for. Most known for her horror and YA dark fantasy retellings of classic fairy tales, Henry has recently been moving steadily more into the horror genre with the releases of Near the Bone and The Ghost Tree. Both books shine a light on the true horrors of being female under the absolute power of men, she doesn’t shy away from shocking violence and grotesque scenes. While I can comfortably recommend both, Near the Bone truly stands out by focusing on two kinds of monsters that lurk in the woods: a supernatural beast and a violent and controlling man. I wasn’t able to put the book down and I feel that it has been one of the scariest books I’ve read in a long while.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez
Mariana Enríquez has quickly become one of my absolute favorite horror short fiction writers after I fell in love with Things We Lost in the Fire when it was released in English a few years ago. Since then I have been chomping at the bit for more of her work to finally be translated to the English language, I can’t even begin to describe the sheer joy I felt when I got my hands on The Dangers of Smoking in Bed before release. Enríquez is an Argentinian author and her stories address the socio-political issues of the country with a strong supernatural twist. This book is filled to the brim with dangerous women, from frenzied fan girls to teen witches. I was absolutely shaken by the new collection, I wish I could scream its praises at the top of my lungs.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Perhaps one of the buzziest names on this list, Silvia Morena-Garcia has become literature’s new sweetheart after the breakout success of Mexican Gothic last year. The great thing about the increased visibility of an established writer is the large catalog of previous works, as is the case of Certain Dark Things. Originally published in 2016, the book quickly went out of print after the collapse of her previous publisher. This book has recently been republished by Tor Nightfire and I am honestly so happy that this book has been given a second chance because it is simply outstanding. Shaking up traditional vampire folklore with Aztec vampires and others that came from different backgrounds, a dash of noir, and some truly fun characters, this book has shot up to one of my favorite vampire books of all time. I hope that the wave of attention will lift this book up to its rightful place as a classic in the genre.
Lady Bits by Kate Jonez
I am always so happy when I can find a lesser-known author that manages to blow me away. Kate Jonez has been nominated a handful of times for prestigious horror awards yet her work goes under the radar from the greater reading public. Lady Bits is a fantastic short story collection, the very first story starts the book off with a bang and the pace never lets up. I greatly enjoyed almost every story in the collection and found myself delighting in the grisly kills of the dangerous women that lead each story. My favorite stories dive into the southern gothic, from runaway street tramps to the quiet horror of motherhood, Lady Bits is an utter pleasure to read.
Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
Returning again to outstanding Argentinian writers, my hands down favorite book of 2020 was Tender is the Flesh, a nightmare dystopia about state-sanctioned cannibalism. This book is a stark reminder of the difference between fear and all-out gut-wrenching horror. While the main character of the novel is a grieving father, the female horror in this book is undeniable as the main character is saddled with a prized heffer, a young woman fit for slaughter. This book’s pacing is unrelenting as the reader is given a guided tour of the menagerie of atrocities inflicted on our fellow man in the name of keeping the meat industry alive after a natural disaster makes animal meat inedible. Political, provocative, punchy, Tender is the Flesh will challenge the reader’s morality as well as their stomachs.
To close out, I wanted to include a few links to some wonderful articles that I enjoyed about women in horror.
Warnings: Violence, Abuse, Mild Sexual Content, Death
One of my favorite story arcs in Kodocha was the on-location shoot for Sana’s first film, Palace of Water. It is during an arc where Sana grapples with her personal relationships and realizes feelings she didn’t know existed. Brief snippets of the film are included in the story for different parts of the shoot, and for years I had always wondered what the movie would have been like! The premise sounded really interesting, and the bits of story that are shown showed the usually cheerful Sana taking on a more somber, chilling role.
This is an ever-present desire whenever I read about a film or story that is contained within a story, I become invested in the characters and plot, and I wonder what it’d be like as a standalone. I was excited to find out that Miho Obana had written a standalone one-shot about the movie, finally my curiosity would be sated! Unfortunately, I realized that at times it is perhaps better to leave things up to the imagination.
The story follows a young man who searches for his missing brother, and it leads him to a mysterious mansion in the middle of the woods. He encounters a ghostly young girl that is both pretty but possessive. I wanted so much to know the backstory of this girl, and what happened to the main character’s brother. The explanation was… Not good, in fact, it was really weird. The story is not that scary at all, even though there is at least one disturbing and bloody scene. I feel that this can be attributed to the fact that Obana is a shojo writer known for her rom-com’s, so the attempt at a spooky story was a bit weak.
I did not understand the need for the plants sub-plot in what could have been a chilling story about a ghost. As should be expected from a story that takes place in the background of another story, Palace of the Water was pretty sparse and not well developed. It was immersive enough that I could view Sana and Naozumi as different people and forgot that these are characters from Kodocha. I also really liked the mini-chapter at the end, which included a teenage Sana and Akito watching the film.
It makes me wonder if I should have skipped this one if only so I could continue to wonder about the possibilities for this fictional film. I would only recommend this one-shot for existing fans of Kodocha if only to sate the curiosity that I’m sure other readers felt as well while reading the original series.
“Shall we let him in…?”