What I thought about: Sweet Home

If you want to see a slideshow of horrible things happening to undeserving people; of despair and violence and gore and destruction, you’re in the right place. If not, run. Run far away from this show.

Monster or human? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

What’s it about?
One night, an infection (or some say a curse) sweeps across South Korea. The first symptom is a torrential nosebleed, and those unable to fight the darkness often turn into powerful monsters with various ‘abilities’ that are said to relate to their deepest desires. The residents of the Green Home apartment complex find themselves barricaded inside. When someone tries to leave and is promptly skewered by a monster, they realise it’s for their own good.

Essentially, it’s an apocalypse survival series. Except it somehow manages to weave an insane amount of backstory and side plots into its 10-episode run. It’s also ghastly and brutal. Bad things just keep on happening to the residents, relentlessly. The monsters, aided by some pretty impressive CGI (and some of whom are just plain human, if you catch my drift), keep coming.

What do I like about it?
I really can’t tell if this is a great show or a terrible one. On the one hand, it is technically brilliant. It’s gripping, the cliffhangers at the end of each episode are perfect, the acting is top notch and the audiovisual elements add so much depth to it (watching this with a 5.1 surround setup was a real treat).

The show also benefits from typical K-Drama quality. You become attached to the characters, all of whom, besides the usual background characters, have such unique personalities and qualities. This allows the show to deliver some side plots and flashbacks that add a surprising amount of depth to the crisis, even if I wished they would tie together a little more neatly.

What do I not like about it?
On the other hand, this show is absolutely awful. The monsters are really, really bad. You can’t kill them unless you set them on fire. They are strong. People keep dying, all the time, in every episode. Whenever there is a shred of hope dangled in front of you, the show executes more characters all over the place.

There is so much violence and so much despair. Also, lots and lots of blood. This is not a show for the faint of heart. Blood pours out of infected people’s noses and splatters onto people’s faces. At one point, someone picks up a sword from his own severed hand in order to make one last attempt at stopping a monster from killing everyone else. It’s fucking horrific.

Worth a watch?
I don’t think I know anyone who would find this an enjoyable watch.

By the way…

  • There is a setup for a second season but, considering the characters who are left standing, I’m not sure if it would be worth watching
  • I kid you not, Imagine Dragons’ Warriors (a song they wrote for a League of Legends gaming tournament) is played at least 5 times during the show. Criticism of the show’s soundtrack is warranted.

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What I thought about: Alice in Borderland

Very Japanese, this part-sci-fi part-thriller part-horror series, based on a popular manga, has random citizens of Tokyo get teleported to an alternate universe where they must take part in sadistic games to survive.

Don’t get too attached to anyone in this show. Consider yourself warned.

What’s it about?
One moment you’re having a shower, or something. The next thing you know, the lights go out and, when they come back on moments later, everyone around you has disappeared. In fact, not just the people around you – the entire population of Tokyo. Gone. Just like that.

That’s the situation facing Arisu, Chōta, and Karube – a trio of delinquents and misfits. As night falls, the only source of light comes from screens around the city which read ‘this way to the game arena’. They follow the screens to a building with mobile phones set out on a table. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve just registered for their first game.

Two doors, one says ‘live’ and the other ‘die’. Two minutes to choose before the room is incinerated. Another player (they’re not entirely alone) freaks out and runs through the ‘live’ door, only to be zapped in the head with a powerful laser. The rest escape through the ‘die’ door into the second room, now with less time to choose another room. With some luck Arisu, good with puzzles, work out the shape of the building and draws a map that leads them confidently through the rest of the game. Their prize? A three-day visa, the importance of which is explained to them when a disheveled man rounds a corner and yells ‘I can’t take it any more, my visa has expired’. He is promptly blasted in the head by a laser from the sky. Your visa is your right to live, and you can only get them by clearing the dangerous games.

What do I like about it?
The games are cool, and most are well designed, if a little confusing what with the additional language barrier for on-screen cues. Along the way, more characters are introduced and we start to learn more about the pseudo-Tokyo and what’s going on. Also, in contrast to Escape Room (which you might consider to be a related concept), the set-up for the sequel is fantastic. No spoilers, though!

What do I not like about it?
There’s a little too much filler for my liking, Some scenes are long, drawn out, and emotional. I also wasn’t a fan of the fact that the ‘main character’ is basically a nobody except for the little nuggets of wisdom he occasionally dishes out, but then again, that is a trope of manga like this.

Worth a watch?
This is a very violent and miserable show. Things only really go from bad to worse for everyone involved, so be careful. But if, like me, you were intrigued by the mystery and are a fan of Japanese on-screen violence, Alice in Borderland is brilliantly produced.

By the way…

  • Much of the shots of an empty Tokyo city centre were filmed with extensive use of green screens, and they did a great job of blending it all together
  • Apparently this season covers 31 of the 64 manga chapters – so maybe Season 2 is all we’ll get

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Quickfire round: Escape Room

Overall a good horror movie that capitalises on the explosive growth of escape rooms, it was somewhat let down by the revelation of a slightly wider universe/plot towards the end which felt cheap.

It’s getting toasty in there.

Six strangers receive a cube, ostensibly from a friend or relative. It’s a mini-puzzle, and upon solving it a piece of paper pops out inviting them to test an immersive new escape room with a prize of $10,000 up for grabs. Amanda, an Iraq war veteran, Jason, a financier, Danny, a nerdy escape room enthusiast, Zoey, a genius physics student, and Ben, a stockroom worker. After being told by a woman behind a frosted glass screen to take a seat and wait, Ben decides he’d rather leave the room and go outside for a smoke. As he pulls the door handle it falls off, revealing what appears to be an oven dial. This is the first room.

So, it’s an escape room horror movie. It follows the basic premise of escape rooms – there are rooms, and there are genuine puzzles with cryptic clues. Only, the Game Master is nowhere to be seen, and you can’t ask for hints. Oh, and if you don’t escape the room in time, you genuinely die. I’ll spare the details of how each room becomes deadly because it’s a large part of the enjoyment of the movie.

And enjoy it, I did! Don’t get me wrong, it was terrifying and my anxiety went through the roof. But I couldn’t stop watching as the chaos unfolded. Towards the end, though, the story gets a bit more complicated, and not for the better. Up until the final room, the rooms could potentially be completed with everyone surviving (spoiler: they don’t all survive said rooms, but you must have known that would happen given this is a horror movie). But the final room is different, and after that the ‘reason’ behind the escape rooms existing is revealed. What follows is too much of a spoiler to write here but I think, although it was a decent plot twist, it felt tacked on.

The feeling of the plot being weakly tacked together continued after the events of the fateful day itself, with a cheap ‘6 months later’ cut which sets up the sequel to the movie (coming out early this year). Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally going to watch the sequel, but I’m not holding my breath for an improvement to the overall plot.

If you like horror and puzzles and escape rooms and acting that is not terrible but also not particularly impressive, I could think of worse ways to spend 99 minutes.

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Quickfire round: The Babysitter: Killer Queen

This movie would probably have made more sense if I knew it was a sequel and watched the original before diving into it. Oh well, it was still entertaining. Read on for some spoilers.

The shirtless demon is just funny, every single time you see it.

The movie follows on a few years after the events of the first. Put simply, our hero Cole’s babysitter turned out to be a psycho demon who needed to complete a ritual in order to pay her debt to the devil and achieve her dreams. Long story (and actual movie, which I suggest you go and watch first) short, his parents return to see a car embedded in their house and their son trying (and failing) to convince anyone about what had really happened that night.

Having discovered that his parents want to send him away to rehab for his ‘delusions’, Cole skips school with childhood friend Melanie and boards a party boat with her friends. Splat! One of the group is violently murdered in front of him. That’s right, it’s happening again. In fact, there’s double the demon in this movie as the original cast are back for revenge and to finish what they started.

And so commences what I imagine was quite similar to the first movie: Cole escapes and somehow, Home Alone-style, he manages to take out the demons one by one. It’s violent and bloody but also funny – the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously (I don’t think anyone is convinced about the underlying plot, not even the writers) and overall is a good watch for something with Halloween vibe that won’t absolutely terrify you. Yes, it has teen movie tropes (‘Kid, you just need to get laid!’ is the suggestion of his therapist) but some elements are funny in their own right, like Max, a demon who is inexplicably shirtless the entire time, just because.

The movie does half-hearted attempt at misdirecting the viewer into thinking that new girl Phoebe will end up being a baddie, not least because she sticks out like a sore thumb and opens her locker to a message of ‘it ends tonight’. I must admit that, even deep into the runtime, I still had my doubts about her. The way things panned out, however, I think that was more just me overthinking it than intentional writing.

If you haven’t seen the first movie you should probably watch that so the plot makes a bit more sense, but either way this movie hit the mark. Nothing exciting, nothing game-changing, just good (messy) fun.

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What I thought about: Ratched

Offering a look into the life of Mildred Ratched before she began her tyrannical reign as Head Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the excellent production values and superb acting went a long way to mask this show’s otherwise quite disappointing plot.

Who knew Mildred Ratched had some compassion in her? Well, enough to protest against boiling someone alive I suppose

What’s it about?
Have you read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Or seen the 1975 film adaptation? No, me neither. But you don’t really have to, as this is advertised as a prequel / origin story. The season starts with Ratched talking herself into a role at a Californian mental hospital, headed up by Dr. Hannover, a Filipino pioneer of mental health treatment. Ratched is up to no good, and we soon discover why.

But we also discover so much more, as the show recalls of some of the most horrific ‘treatments’ given out at mental hospitals in the late 1940s including hydrotherapy (forcibly bathing someone in scaldingly hot water and then immediately dunking them into an ice bath) and, of course, the lobotomy. We also get a look at the period’s views on homosexuality and the death penalty (oh how wild it is to see that we have advanced mental health care so much since then, and yet some states in the US are still so incredibly regressive in the use of state-sanctioned killing).

What do I like about it?
The visuals. The music. The acting. This is just such a delightful show to watch. Mildred drives a bright turquoise car in a sea of black ones. She has dark red hair and great fashion sense. Dr. Hannover is an eccentric maverick, yet underneath his often aggressive exterior lies a delicate man who genuinely wants to cure people of their mental ills. Every character is portrayed in a way that is ever so slightly over the top. Enough to create a sort of candied view of the story that somehow comforted me through what were some truly grisly scenes of murder, death, and suffering.

What do I not like about it?
Sitting back and taking it all in after the first episode, I have to agree with what many professional critics have said about the show. The plot… is not great. Characters show up out of the blue in unconvincing ways and often with a dramatic effect on the story that just isn’t believable. There are moments that are painfully slow, particularly as the show tries to provide some context to Ratched’s life – her work and family history, and her struggle with sexuality. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have seen those in the show – it is, after all, an origin story – but somehow the writing just didn’t pan out.

Worth a watch?
It’s still a yes from me. Especially if you can watch on a Dolby Vision-supported TV, because the cinematography is truly stunning. Watch the trailer first and be forewarned that the show contains some grisly scenes of violence.

By the way…

  • Netflix ordered two seasons in one go, so Ratched will be back soon.
  • A cursory glance at the plot of the book reveals many an inspiration for the events occurring in this prequel story – just different characters at different times.

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