Sweet Home (2020) After 6 Episodes *Some spoilers*
Although this isn't a show that I would necessarily recommend while in polite company, I'm finding it immensely watchable and addictive. But for me it would strictly be a daytime affair because the images of violence are quite visceral and down time would be needed after. Despite the horror tag, most of the relentless gore and monsterization occurs in the early episodes. The amount of blood spilt in those early episodes... the first two or three, I'd say... would be the envy of any blood bank. Nose-bleeding is one of the signs of "infection" and there's plenty of that going around.All that said, this isn't a drama about monsters although there are some hideous looking creatures prowling around the Green House apartment block looking for prey. Monsters are the catalyst for this particular story that is ultimately about people -- what do people do to survive, how do they behave during a major crisis when all the creature comforts or even the basic necessities of life that they've taken for granted suddenly become luxury items.
Apparently the end of the world has come in the form of monsterization. Human beings are mysteriously turning into insatiable grotesque creatures of different shapes and sizes. There's even one that reminds me of the gremlins from an old 1980s film of the same name. It's reminiscent of a gargoyle but much taller. For me the creatures seem to be depictions of phobias writ large and there's some indication that there's a connection between emotions and the monsterization process. But surprisingly I do enjoy what the show does with them even while I experience some revulsion. When the gargoyle-type monster gets the top of his head sliced off, he stumbles around complaining that he can't see because his eyes are no longer attached to the rest of him. His hearing is still intact however thanks to his large ears. Perhaps it's my twisted sense of humour showing forth, but there's something bleakly funny about it.
There are many instances of defying viewer expectations at work here. One of my favourite characters is a devout Bible-quoting Christian. He is polite, kind and straight-laced. He wears nerdy glasses. The bass guitar playing Ji-su shows her discomfiture with his God talk when they share lift space. She can't away from him fast enough. But when disaster hits their building and the monsters run amok, he becomes this heroic, katana-wielding defender of the vulnerable. They become allies in the fight. He's a great character and one I identify with most especially because he brings a lovely spiritual dimension to the whole thing.
Lee Jin-uk, for whom I largely ventured into uncharted territory, plays an angry, gangster-like figure whose reasons for being at Green House isn't quite clear at first. He seems particularly fixated with one of the residents. To everyone's initial bewilderment he seems doggedly intent on doing serious damage to this man who seems to be friendly and generous. The uglification of Lee Jin-uk is on point. His mentally and physically scarred character Sang-wook has a gruff, dark presence that sets the tone for the moral landscape of the drama. And despite what one is led to think initially, this show is profoundly preoccupied with morality. Of course we can always debate about whether the gorefest is needed to tell the story.
As for the rest of the cast, there are plenty of familiar faces in the ensemble that take centre-stage at various points in the narrative. At times the show does feel like a high end theatre production with different set pieces as the actors gather in key places to voice their concerns, dilemmas and debate them. In such moments when conflict amongst the occupants are at its highest, the themes of the plot coalesce nicely.
In light of the Covid issue that has dominated the global landscape, the drama is exceedingly topical. Everyone has an opinion about the monsterization. Everyone thinks that they hold the moral high ground on what should be done in a crisis because their survival is the primary endgame. Fear although a powerful survival impulse in humans, is not necessarily the best driver for decision making in extraordinary circumstances. Fearmongers can and often do step in and take advantage of the situation for whatever agenda that seems right to them. The scenario begs many questions: Is dying really the worst thing that can happen to anyone? For some reason... perhaps due to improved medical health care... the general consensus seems to be heading in that direction. How much of your freedom and the freedoms of others are you willing to trade to be safe? Can human beings flourish in a risk-averse world? Those are same sorts of questions that have come up during the last 8-9 months while the world waits for a saviour in the form of a vaccine.
The debates and issues are played in how the main character (Song Kang) is located in the drama and how he's perceived by all the others as his arc develops. Is he really a danger to them? Or are they more of a danger to him and to each other as a result of the choices that they make? The answers seem superficially simple but they open the proverbial can of ethical worms.
It's actually a well-made show ... not really that different from a disaster film when boiled to its essence. But only if you can stomach the gore of the early episodes.