Dark Hole (2021) Final Review

In all likelihood no one really cares about this except me but it’s a show I started but never really entertained the idea of dropping because there was just enough to entice me to persist. It’s not the best thing that has ever come out of OCN but I don’t think it’s the worst. My biggest complaint has always been the pacing and emphasis. It should have been a decent 3 hour film or a 4-5 episode drama. Nevertheless in the mire of smoke, dust and mindless mutants there were some perceptibly relevant sci-fi themes running right through it. The set-up took too long while the resolution was shoved along hurriedly. What really rankles is the waste of Lee Joon-hyuk’s talents that he was relegated largely to playing the muscle and … much needed eye candy in this bleak landscape of death and destruction. Even his backstory of how a trained cop was forced to drive tow-trucks for a living was hastily resolved at the 11th hour. Unlike everyone else Yoo Tae-han is a cheerful, plucky character that has been happily ignorant about wrongs done against him and he’s not the type to hold grudges. He’s born to be a cop. And he remains someone untouched by the entity’s machinations all throughout.

Clearly this was Kim Ok-vin’s drama. She was the stranger that rode into town in search of a serial killer that took advantage of her and her late husband’s kindness. The serial killer is a red-herring… the equivalent of Alice’s White Rabbit… to take Detective Lee Hwa-sun down a rabbit trail where she wrestles with her own inner demons and battles monsters left, right and centre. As the seasoned detective from Seoul, she is the outsider who is able to penetrate the darkness that envelopes the entire town while almost everyone else is scrambling around helplessly trying to survive the mysterious haze that turns everyday human beings into something grotesque. The benefit of being the outsider too is that she has no connection with the town’s biggest secret or have any kind of axe to grind with anyone… except the serial killer.

For better or for worse women dominate the eerie landscape. Aside from Hwa-sun, there’s the shaman who purports to be the “chosen” one. With her newfound powers of foresight (or so it seems) she gathers a band of willing followers that quickly turns into a death cult that’s used by the extra-terrestrial entity to mete out “judgement”. Might is right and all bow at the altar of fear. The fact that HQ is established at the hospital is brimming with irony. Under the guise of a deity, the entity preys on puny humans to unleash a killing spree among the refuge seekers while manipulating the survivors to turn on one another. The entity with laser-like precision knows which buttons to push offering every individual the promise of power to exact revenge. It barely has to lift a finger. With an abundant use of flashbacks the audience is privy to the fact that Muji is a town riddled with resentment — the perfect playground for the unworldly invader with telepathic abilities. Evil did not just land in the form of the entity. Evil was already present. It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer, who wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

Dark Hole is undoubtedly a treatise (and a bloody one at that) about the insidiousness and pervasiveness of evil. In that regard it does well although frankly speaking it didn’t need 12 episodes to do it. It makes a convincing case that people are ultimately agents of their own destruction unless there’s a wakeup call or some kind of external intervention to startle them out of their complacency.

Later when a tentacled creature emerges, suspicions are raised about a student Dong-rim who labours under a perpetual cloud of simmering resentment against her fellow townsfolk. Clearly she has been the victim of grave injustice and has plenty of reasons to want people dead. But just because she’s resentful, does that mean she’s out for blood?

This is the cunning of the entity. It whispers seductive words of revenge to those who are susceptible and most fall into his trap because they offer an easy way out, in the process becoming his willing instruments of death.

Overall it’s a well-meaning endeavour but the flaws fall fairly and squarely on the execution. It starts too long and finishes too soon. No explanation is given as to why the entity might have found its way among us. Consequently it becomes little more than a metaphor for external evil. And the aftermath is sadly anticlimactic. Life continues without public acknowledgement of what has transpired. It’s a strange way to end a show that was unrelenting and visceral in its carnage.

The show locates itself within the general parameters of disaster science fiction in which the key players are not only trying to survive but also groping around in the dark to get to the root of the problem. It’s a high stakes operation for those who care enough about the seemingly insurmountable threat. This has all the hallmarks of classic sci-fi horror with echoes of HP Lovecraft. The smokey eerie atmosphere also has me going down the road of nostalgia reminiscing over Patrick Troughton/ Jon Pertwee/ Tom Baker running down corridors to evade the Cybermen or the Daleks.

Was it worth persevering through? Perhaps, perhaps not. All I can say is that there are no regrets on my part to seeing it through to the end. But then I have been a fan of cheesy sci-fi since spending many a childhood afternoon with Star Trek: The Original Series. This is my explanation at least as to why this kind of mediocrity is bearable.

More analysis on the drama here and here