Squid Game (2021)

I’d been seeing a whole lot of hype about the Korean mini-series Squid Game on Netflix for a while before I took the time to watch it for myself. I hadn’t been dedicating much if any, time to watching movies or television shows for what turned out to be quite an extended interval. I have to say that Squid Game was a damn fine way to return to watching a series.
While the overall narrative isn’t entirely original, its various components are assembled in such a way as to create a rather unique and exciting experience. Hugely reminiscent of Battle Royale, Squid Game incorporates elements familiar to fans of The Running Man, Tzameti, Series 7: The Contenders, and the old BBC series The Prisoner. While mingling all of these diverse elements–as well as other sources of inspiration–it transforms itself into a captivating and largely unpredictable story that retained this particular viewer’s attention throughout.
Primarily following Lee Jung-jae’s Seong Gi-hun, we’re introduced to a man living a life of regret and poor decisions but who is, at heart, a genuinely decent guy. It would be easy to suggest he’s a degenerate gambler and a deadbeat father, but there’s a whole lot more to him than that, and it’s quite clear that there’s a stubborn streak of optimism and desire to do right that motivates him along the way.
When presented with a mysterious opportunity to potentially change the course of his life and keep his daughter nearby, Seong Gi-hun accepts a fateful invitation that will certainly change his life forever, assuming he manages to survive.
Along with 455 other people, including his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (played by Park Hae-soo) and a pickpocket he only briefly encountered, Kang Sae-byeok (played by Jung Hoyeon), the numbered contestants wake up in a large auditorium, wearing jumpsuits. The collection of mostly strangers are greeted by armed and masked workers who carry out the commands of the even more mysterious Frontman.
Led to the first game of the challenge, the sinister reality of their situation becomes terrifyingly real and the remaining contestants must determine whether the potential reward outweighs the all-too-real risks associated with the games they’re expected to play.
It’s all but impossible to write anything more than this without giving away spoilers. I don’t know if I should even worry about that, knowing how popular the series happens to be, but I’m sure there are plenty of people still sitting on the fence and uncertain whether they should watch the series, and I can’t help but say that they’d be making a mistake by not settling in for the series.
When the sixth episode concludes, only the most inhuman of us would be left unmoved and devastated. Consider that a fair warning, that you’re going to hurt while you’re watching the events unfold, helpless to do or say anything to change what we’re witnessing.
The only thing I found disappointing in the whole nine-episode series was the final moments of that concluding episode, and that wasn’t enough of a disappointment to sour how I feel about the show as a whole.
As a commentary on the predatory and toxic aspects of capitalist systems, Squid Game succeeds where plenty of other movies and series have failed to elevate the conversation. The mysterious Frontman says it best when he suggests that the goal is to give the 456 contenders an equal chance, where the outside world made equality a virtual impossibility.


We Need To Do Something (2021)

If you’re unfamiliar with We Need To Do Something, I recommend that you sift through my earlier blog posts for my review of the novella by Max Booth III. Published in spring of 2020, Max’s We Need To Do Something set an unexpectedly appropriate tone for a year that frequently included the term “shelter in place.” Deeply disturbing and claustrophobic, the novella got under the skin of almost everyone who read it. It was no surprise that the screenplay Max adapted from his novella managed to capture attention. Now we have the opportunity to watch the result of more than a year of hard work from Max and the cast and crew involved in the production.
We Need To Do Something is a tale of a dysfunctional, broken family taking shelter in a bathroom as a tornado warning precedes a massive and destructive cataclysmic event taking place in the world outside of their confinement. Trapped by a fallen tree, the family bonds dissolve as panic sets in. Revealed in flashbacks, we learn that the daughter, Melissa, might have something to do with what begins to feel more like the end of the world than merely a storm.
To say that Sean King O’Grady captured the foreboding atmosphere and quirky humor of the story is an understatement. I sincerely believe he’ll have a lot of attention after this particular movie makes the waves it surely will. I don’t doubt Max had plenty of input on set as an Executive Producer, and the screenwriter of the project, but it required a quality director with vision and attention to detail no matter how much consultation the writer provided.
Largely a single-location shoot, the set was an important character in and of itself. The bathroom where the family found themselves trapped as a storm–and whatever else–raged beyond the walls needed to be perfect in its way. The art department nailed the bathroom design.
Pat Healy’s performance as the angry, alcoholic father, Robert, is eerily well done. Vinessa Shaw captures the humor and sympathetic nature of Diane, the mother who, desperate to hold everything together, had been planning to leave her awful husband until the storm forced them into captivity. The true stars are Sierra McCormick and John James Cronin, Melissa and Bobby, respectively. The two of them portrayed siblings so well as to make one feel as if they’d been living together for years. Melissa was brought to life as a confused, terrified teenager wracked with guilt over the witchcraft she’d performed with her girlfriend, Amy, and the belief that they’d been responsible for everything happening. Bobby was believable as the equally adorable and annoying younger brother, so much so that the events are no less heartbreaking and painful than they were when reading the novella.
While the production wasn’t at all what I’d pictured in my imagination, it triumphantly came to replace the things I’d seen in my mind’s eye while reading the book more than a year ago.
I can only imagine how proud Max Booth III must be, having seen his vision brought to life in this new way, with such spectacular quality. It’s especially gratifying, I suspect, to have seen the “good boy” scene played out on screen. Anyone who has read the novella will know precisely what I’m talking about. It’s truly the turning point of the story, where the reader/viewer realizes there’s something horrifying taking place.
We all need to do something, indeed. We Need To See This Movie!

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

The final installment of the Fear Street trilogy from Netflix had some weaknesses, but it was an overall satisfying conclusion to the story. In a sense, it was like two movies in one.
As Deena restores the skeleton of the witch, Sarah Fier, she finds herself transported back in time to the colonial community of Union, where she experiences the final days of Sarah Fier’s life through her own eyes. We discover that the history everyone had taken for granted throughout the previous two installments is not the reality of what happened during those fateful days in 1666.
Sarah and Hannah Miller–much like Deena and Sam in 1994–are lovers in a time when it was most certainly less socially acceptable than it is today. Jealous men of the village spurned in their advances, use this forbidden love as justification for cries of witchcraft and devilry. It just so happens that there is witchcraft afoot, but Sarah and Hannah are, of course, innocent.
There was a satisfying moment in the story when Sarah determines that she will bring the devil down on the citizens of Union in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Already condemned for practicing witchcraft, she feels there’s nothing to lose. Instead, she discovers the truth of who is behind the apparent curse afflicting the village before she is captured and hanged by the overzealous Union residents. It’s this discovery that brings us back to the present of 1994–and the latter half of the movie.
Deena, Josh, and Ziggy–along with the custodian, Martin–craft a desperate plan to bring down the real witch and end the curse that’s afflicted Shadyside for more than 300 years…hopefully, saving Sam in the process.

Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster’s Midsommar doesn’t receive the credit it deserves within a lot of the horror communities I interact with. The same goes for his previous film, Hereditary.
To some extent, I think it’s simply a matter of taste…some people seem to have little patience for more atmospheric horror, and Midsommar relies heavily on atmosphere much as movies like It Follows and Session 9 previously did. Similarly, there are psychological and symbolic elements scattered throughout the narrative, both subtle and overt. This is very much a movie for those who enjoyed Hereditary’s relatively slow burn horror and drip-fed revelations.
In both movies, the overall focus is that of cult activity, albeit framed quite differently from Hereditary to Midsommar. In this one, the communal religious sect from Sweden is quite upfront about their existence and adherence to old rituals and practices. Speaking of those rituals and practices, Aster did a fair bit of research into mythical traditions as well as actual practices within the prehistoric Nordic cultures to cultivate a plausible framework for the cult’s beliefs and activities. Mingling that blend of fact and fiction with the supernatural allowed him to craft an unsettling, tense, and phantasmagorical experience with this movie.
Florence Pugh puts forth an excellent performance as the emotionally and psychologically fragile, Dani. Her breadth of expression and emotive display is stretched about as far as a single performance could manage. On the opposite side of the central relationship, we have Jack Reynor’s performance as Christian which, while no less impressive, leans more toward emotionally distant and confused throughout the tale. Watching the relationship deteriorate from the already well-eroded substrate at the beginning is both heartbreaking–as we feel sympathy for Dani–and satisfying–as we feel increasing contempt for Christian.
The rest of the cast is no less impressive in their respective roles, but they all take a backseat to the dominant spotlights of the movie…the crumbling relationship between Dani and Christian, and the increasingly disturbing unveiling of the nightmare the outsiders have wandered into as guests/sacrifices.
Comparisons with The Wicker Man (1973) are certainly appropriate. The same element of outsiders being manipulated into playing preordained parts in a larger, primitive ritual is present in both movies. The same sort of disquieting undercurrent runs beneath the surface in both movies, though it certainly seems to breach the surface far more frequently and earlier in the film in this case. In fact, if you took The Wicker Man and blended it with a splash of Believers (2007), a dash of Shrooms (2007), and just a touch of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), you would have something quite similar to Midsommar.
It’s best to sit down and just experience this movie as it all plays out before you. There’s certainly gore (though the movie doesn’t rely on it as the backbone of the story), nudity, and psychological aspects that might be disturbing for some viewers…but there’s also a compelling story taking place.