Your friendly neighborhood slacker. Chill Clinton likes to write about film, music, collectibles, and more.
Would You Like to Play a Game?
Squid Games is the 2021 Korean survival horror series that saw its American Netflix debut on September 17th.
In the first episode, viewers are introduced to Gi-Hun, a work-insecure valet driver who struggles to support his aging mother, and is growing more estranged from his daughter, who lives an affluent life across town with her mother and wealthy stepfather.
Constantly outrunning creditors, and nearly out of "second-chances" with the local loan sharks, Gi-Hun takes a bet from a mysterious man on a subway platform, who offers him another chance to win big by participating in a series of games.
However, when Gi-Hun takes the man up on his offer, he finds that these games are nothing like the one he played with the man in the subway. For one, they're all kids games he recalls playing in the school yard, but he's playing against hundreds of competitors, and being eliminated means losing your life.
Will You Walk Away from the Games?
A distinct difference between the Squid Games and other stories in its genre is the fact that each player is given an opportunity to leave if they want.
Upon arriving at the secret facility, those who don't wish to participate are allowed to leave, and even after the first round, a majority vote ends the games periodically.
But here is the catch: every player eliminated adds 100 million won ($84K USD) to a collective pot that those who survive all six deadly games will split. And with 456 players, the opportunity to erase all of their material debts proves to outweigh the self preservation instinct as nearly every player chooses to return to complete the games.
Too Similar to Not Acknowledge
Squid Games is absolutely an improvement on the survival game horror genre when compared to a number of other films and television series. However when comparing it to others in the genre, it's hard to ignore the similarities between this series and a lesser known 2014 Japanese horror film called As the Gods Will.
In that film, a group of high school students participate in a series of games that are all versions of childhood favorites, but with a deadly twist.
Sound similar? Well would you believe me if I told you that the first game played in both stories are versions of the game Americans would call "Red Light, Green Light"?
It's true. But this is largely where the similarities end. Though the somewhat derivative nature of Squid Games can be difficult for dedicated horror fans to accept, it does create a unique story with rich characterization that distinguishes it from others that may share narrative similarities.
A Sharp Commentary on Class and Culture
The choice of whether to stay in the games is one which players face early in the series. Though many are relieved to escape the death games periodically after a majority vote, returning to their lives of homelessness, loneliness, and abject poverty pushes nearly every player to wager their lives for the slim chance of winning the pot.
Though Gi-Hun's encounter with the man on the platform appeared to be by chance, he and every player in the games were carefully selected because of how desperatly they need money. The players come from all walks of life, from disgraced professionals, to undocumented workers, to single mothers, to North Korean defectors, to the elderly- people who have no way to meaningfully survive in a society that values success and competition above all else.
Squid Games is a sharp criticism of conformity, opulence, and Capitalism. It explores this not only through the wager each participant makes by choosing to play, but also in the ways that the participants relate to each other as they form alliances and hierarchies to reclaim the power they lost outside of the games.
It's cruel, smart, and very binge-worthy. Its characters are unique, complicated, and well developed, at times gaining viewers' trust only to betray it as they all fight to make it from game to game, and hopefully take home their slice of the prize.