'Squid Game' review: Not a child's play but all about visceral violence that demands deep reflection

“Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits...” that's how Netflix describes the high-octane drama series which currently is the highest scored Korean drama on Netflix. Not just that, but the new K-drama 'Squid Game' was able to beat the famous Spanish series 'La casa de papel', popularly known as 'Money Heist'.

'Squid Game' isn’t the first to bring a bloody and action-packed story to our screens. Like in many of those series, the survival here too revolves around money.

The nine-part Netflix original opens with a playground game called 'the squid game,' which lends the show’s title. Soon, we are introduced to Seong Gi-hun, the main protagonist, who is reminded by his mother that it is his daughter's birthday. Irresponsible and ungrateful, Gi-hun, a divorcee, who owns an immense amount of debt to violent loan sharks, steals his mother's debit card to get money from the bank and heads off to bet on horse races. This betting scenario throws clues to what is to come in the later portion of the story.

Dangerous game on

Similar 456 people are shown as saddled with large debts and are given an opportunity to take part in a game. While one Cho Sang-woo is a businessman, another is Kang Sae-byeok, a pickpocket. There is Oh Il-nam, an old man diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Ali, a Pakistani who came to Korea solely to make money. They all have signed up for the series of games and enter the dystopian Hunger Games-esque competition. While each player aims to win a $40 million cash prize, Squid Game has got certain rules as well. When you’re out, it means you’re literally out. It's only after a point that the players realize that they need change their approach — from fighting for the money to fighting for their lives.

With each passing episode, we realise that the Squid Game is no child's play and rather is beyond what we see at peripheral level. From rich folks playing with the lives of those in need of money, to the questions of greed and humanity linger throughout the series. Similar themes of organ trafficking and class struggles are also addressed but with visceral violence.

The best part about the writing here is that there are enough compelling backstories for each characters that help in the smooth progress of the series. The subplot involving a police officer with a missing brother adds further excitement to the nail-biting game.

Expect another season

Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, 'Squid Game''s ending leaves room for another season. Though the one behind the curtain is revealed by the final part, many other elements are unanswered. What led to the Game’s founding, who all are involved, what makes them design such a game and how the masked people are chosen and many more? While the season creates an empathy for the players, the emotions behind the masked men aren't touched upon. While the game claims to give equal opportunities, we can't help but ponder over the equal right granted to each players which makes the ultimate twist.

Sets and props stand out

The colourful sets with props are absolutely incredible and the music choices are perfection. From introducing the island to welcoming the VIPs – each shots are tastefully done. But it is the performances that complement the compelling storyline. Apart from Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Oh Yeong-su, Jung Ho-yeon and Anupam Tripathi play major roles.

In one of the episodes, where a riot breaks out, it seems difficult to play with lights that come and go for a while. The scenes involving the foreign VIPs kind of look artificial. One is so invested into the world of players that once the VIPs come in, the cutthroat nature of capitalism, both literally and figuratively, is what is focused upon.

Compelling show overall

The show’s voyeuristic violence may not work for everyone, and there are occasional predictability with a slightly disappointing finale. However, it is an engrossing thriller that is both disturbing and exciting at the same time.

Like the shot of players staring at a glowing piggy bank on the ceiling, the 'Squid Game' makes for a beautiful yet haunting depiction of the world we live in.

(The series is available on Netflix.)

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