Seven details that explain why ‘The Squid Game’ is on track to be one of the most viewed series in Netflix history
This article includes very minor spoilers for the series.
It has become such a massive and international success that Netflix itself does not give credit. Ted Sarandos recently acknowledged that “We didn’t see it coming in terms of its global popularity,” and the truth is that It is on its way to becoming one of the most viewed series on the platform without starting with anything going for it: Asian origin with no known actors or crew in the West, does not belong to a famous franchise and has not been particularly supported by Netflix’s promotional machinery (for example, the press did not have access to screeners anticipated to its premiere).
Nevertheless, the spread of his fame, exclusively through the effect of word of mouth, has very clear reasons. The magnetism that it gives off in the plot and the visual curdles into an addictive series, which overflows with anthological moments, iconic images and perfect material for memes in each shot. These are some of the keys that have made the series a worldwide phenomenon.
An argument that is almost a meme
The plot of ‘The Squid Game’ is as elemental as it is enigmatic: a group of people with serious financial problems agree to participate in a game that will make one of them a millionaire. They will only have to survive six tests inspired by children’s games of Korean origin but which we all know, such as the iconic ‘English Hideout’ with which the massacre is inaugurated. For viewers, as simple to understand as it is to communicate … and spread through the internet.
Two key references: ‘Saw’ …
Who is not going to like a saga of systematic and sophisticated torture. The ‘Saw’ saga has gone from being a thriller franchise where the weight was on the suffering and torture suffered by the victims of a dangerous psychopath to a succession of spectacular devices of majestic death, increasingly sophisticated and symbolic. Some of this is inherited by the children’s games transformed into execution devices of ‘The Squid Game’: their almost moral character, the unnecessarily cumbersome operation and the knowledge on the part of those responsible for the series that they are the true attraction of the product .
The parallels do not end there. They are also reminiscent of the Jigsaw saga the anonymity of the torturers, who speak with machines that distort the voice and wear masks, the feeling that the victims are in evidence to purge sins they committed in their “normal” life and the idea of a lethal game, which, not because it is deadly, ceases to have springs typical of innocuous children’s entertainment.
… and ‘The Hunger Games’
It is the other clear reference of the series, tied with ‘Battle Royale’. Not only for the presentation of a lethal competition in which the contestants play more than a diplomabut because of the slightly dystopian tone of the story. The series does not take place in the future, but the overloaded aesthetics, the totalitarian gestures, the squared structure of the tests are reminiscent of the best dystopias. There are no science-fiction components in ‘The Squid Game’, but every time the contestants are walked around the facilities to go to a new test, the dystopia detector of any spectator goes crazy.
I take care of your visual section
One of the first impacts that the series offers is the plane of the corridors that communicate to the participants with the first test: apparently infinite stairs where everyone seems to move in different directions. It is inevitable to remember MC Escher’s trompe l’oeil in works like his ‘Relativity’. The whole series shines at the same level: from the aesthetics of the tests (between the childish and the perverse) to some montages that relate all the characters (for example, with the contestants following the same ritual of getting into a car alone when they decide to return to the contest), passing through abundant symmetrical wide shots or from unusual perspectives. Visually, the series continually surprises.
Its plot structure is out of the one we already know by heart
If ‘The Squid Game’ were a Western series, you know what structure it would have: the characters enter the contest and we know what has led them there through very heavy flashbacks that do not interest us too much. But here the turn comes soon: the characters, of whom we still do not know anything, vote to leave the contest … and they succeed. It is through that brief stay abroad that we not only know the story of each one in a different way than the usual narrative of the series, maintaining interest, but we also understand the reasons why they do not try to escape from an environment so dangerous.
The message is wildly nonconformist
Another clear reference that we can put on the table when talking about ‘The Squid Game’ is the latest international success of Korean cinema: ‘Parasites’, a rabidly anti-capitalist film (and at times anti-system) that denounces with humor and grotesque caricature the painful situation that practically the entire human race faces, voluntarily assuming debts, stressful jobs and a naive abstract happiness as a goal that never ends. ‘The Squid Game’ tells exactly that (also sharing the composer of the soundtrack), but without sermons or fuss: the viewer understands perfectly why the system has trapped the characters, why they are desperate to get out … .and why the game that allows them to get out fast is also a cheat.
The extraordinary performances by the cast, often bordering on parody but without losing sight of essential humanity of the characters, does a lot to communicate that message. Lee Jung-jae and
Park Hae-soo lead a group of losers who react with helplessness, rage, apathy or even anesthetized good humor to an untenable situation, to the point that they agree to get into the wolf’s mouth (several times!) Out of sheer desperation .
It is not cut in the slightest
And that is its great value, at the end of the day: when fooling around with terror or fantasy, the series does so by transforming the aesthetics of the images. When subplots involving gore and violent savagery are at stake, the visuals are unbearably shocking. The deaths literally number in the hundreds (and we see them all) and even the satirical comedy she flirts with is anything but shy.
“The Squid Game” is brave and insane, and it has conquered viewers around the world, simply because it takes no prisoners in its story and commits to it to the end. How Korean commercial cinema has been doing for decades, on the other hand, although that is a bandage that we will have to remove another time.