On its way to becoming Netflix’s most watched series, Squid Game is a surprise success, but not necessarily unworthy. At the crossroads of genres and references, the South Korean show has found the happy medium and it does it well.
Launched on Netflix on September 17, Squid Game is the platform’s most watched series in nearly 80 countries. In their sights: beat the viewing record for other flagship shows of the SVoD service such as La Chronique de Bridgerton or La Casa de Papel. A success that allowed a big spotlight on this South Korean show with a very simple concept.
What would you be prepared to do for 45 billion won (about 30 million euros)? People with very different profiles whose only common point is their financial distress are offered to participate in games for children. At the end of the sixth test, the winner will pocket everything. But beware: a tragic end awaits the losers.
The principle of Squid Game is nothing new, survival in a deadly competitive environment is a well-worn genre around the world. Battle Royale, Hunger Games, Saw or the recent Alice in Borderland (another Netflix success) can attest to this. The competition is tough and we can easily fall into the cliché and the low end. In short, on paper, the series did not start with big advantages.
A social critique
This is where Squid Game deploys its tentacles. Far from being satisfied with piling up the graphic deaths during sadistic games with false speeches (Jigsaw if you read us), the series is above all a story of characters. She’s telling us something. Through the main protagonist (Jung-jae Lee), an unemployed person, player, failed father, in debt up to his neck and still living with his mother, we are plunged into the miserability of the abandoned that capitalism exploits and spits it out. Men and women whom life abuses and humiliates, even being invited to play at the cost of a few slaps in public.
People who are offered to escape death from episode 2, but who will return almost all, because the outside is ultimately not easier. In a society where the only solution is success or death, the game gives them a choice. Well, that’s what they believe. Because the scenario goes further by pushing for progressive dehumanization, to question beliefs in the face of the call for a better life. The message is crystal clear: anyone can flinch.
And maybe this is what makes Squid Game so addicting: the identification of the spectator. Whether we like it or not, we end up asking ourselves the question of our own will in these situations. Here, the reactions are often extreme, but always human, because faced with the fear of dying and the desire to succeed, how far would we be ready to go? Thus, we almost come to excuse betrayals or cowardice because deep down, who knows what he would be capable of?
The scenario thus provides reasons and a story to our six main characters, intelligently embodied in spite of a certain proportion to the overplay. There are the bad guys, the good guys and then finally the line blurs until the final outcome.
A social criticism that would have gained in force if the scenario did not falter in its last part by reaching a much more classic discourse where ultimately, the villains are always the same. The rich against the poor, we inevitably always come back to that.
Squid Game, a simple and effective game
The other side of the show obviously remains the macabre game aspect. On this side too, Squid Game does things well. By taking the origin of the trials in our childhood memories, the scenario can thus have fun balancing the child’s recklessness in the face of the adult’s distress. The artistic direction participates in the atmosphere with its schoolyard decorations, its agents masked in pink and its little music reminiscent of a rhyme to announce the start of hostilities. We are like inside a candy that will soon be stained with blood.
However, if the camera likes to dwell on the dead, just to justify the ban for at least 16 years of the series, the staging manages to never take his eyes off the psychological dimension. As such, the marbles game is a monumental moment of tension and tragedy without playing the card of visual horror.
The big black point will come from the parallel plot which sees a policeman infiltrate the masked men in search of his brother. A sub-plot that will have no interest, no consequences, except, we hope, if a season 2 is born. Nothing signed for the moment according to its creator, but it is hard to see Netflix depriving itself of its new goose that lays the golden eggs. That’s good, we want more!