Squid Game is a hit Netflix series filmed in South Korea. The production quality and the basic premise of the show will be explored in this Squid Game review. It presents viewers with characters, a story, action, but more than anything, it presents viewers with a situation. Watching Squid Game is like taking a personality test. Viewers end up pondering many questions derived from this one: what would you do if you were in this situation? That leads to questions like, was that character justified in that action? Is life in the game better than life outside the game? Was that decision smart? Etc. It is similar to shows like Lost, Stranger Things and Survivor. It also has a great deal in common with The Hunger Games series.
There are also many questions to ask about the story. Who is behind the game? How are the staff hired? What is the purpose of the game? The finale answered some questions but left a lot to explore in potential future seasons.
Squid Game is available on Netflix.
Story: Playing for Survival
People who are in serious financial trouble are contacted by a mysterious organization. The organization offers them a chance to earn a large cash prize by competing in a tournament of games. Those who accept the offer are taken to the secret location where the games are held. Once there, the players live together in a large room with stacks of beds. Only after the games begin do the players realize that the losers are killed. So, they’re not only competing for the prize money, they are also competing for survival.
The players can go home if the majority of them vote to end the tournament. In the event that happens, they can resume the tournament if the majority agrees to do so.
I think the story is well written for the most part. The setting in which the games take place is particularly well done. The masked men and the front man have a nice uniformity and their facelessness helps connect the audience to the players. Viewers know just as little as the players do about the masked men.
One criticism that I have in regarding the story is that it is a little too predictable. The tournament could have benefitted from a few more twists. Perhaps one more betrayal or advantage would have spiced it up just enough.
Characters and Performances: What it Takes to Win
The roles are all played well. Every important character has a small backstory, which is mainly shown in episode 2. They each have slightly different traits that transfer into how they approach the situation they find themselves in.
The show follows a man named Gi-Hun. His nobility and loyalty are what separates him from the other players. He is genuinely saddened by the deaths of the losing players and shows it outwardly. Lee Jung-jae plays Gi-Hun very well, particularly when he expresses negative emotions. Gi-Hun’s desire to save himself and the people around him is very believable and thus moving.
His kindness makes him likable, but at the same it’s his own fault that he is in such a mess. On one hand he is noble, on the other hand he is self destructive. It’s his own fault that he is in debt and he freely chooses to play the game.
Sang-Woo is another important character, and he is a childhood friend of Gi-Hun’s. He is a smart and well-educated man. His approach to the situation is very calm and calculated, without very much emotion at all.
Sang-Woo grasps the reality, that in order for him to win everyone else has to lose, much easier than his allies do. Since he understands that reality, he knows that eventually he will have to watch each of his allies die. Park Hae-soo plays Sang-Woo fairly well, but he doesn’t steal the show. He knows when to maintain a poker face and when to show a hint of emotion.
The best two performances are Lee Jung-jae as Gi-Hun, and Anupam Tripathi as Ali Abdul. Anupam Tripathi’s role is minor, but it would be wrong not to acknowledge that his performance as Ali is great. Ali is much less bright than the other players, so he mainly follows what others tell him to do. Anupam Tripathi is fantastic at portraying Ali’s compliance and tractability.
Pacing and Editing: One Spot for more Clarity
I feel that the pacing is very good. There could be more episodes, but it doesn’t need more. It has all the basic schools of thought that one may consider when asked, what would you do in this situation? Also, it leaves some avenues open to explore in the future, in the likely event that there is a future.
For the most part the editing is effective in telling the story. However, there is one storyline that could have benefited from more thoughtful editing. A group of the masked men decide to start a project on the side that needs to be kept secret from their superiors. It took me longer to piece together what was happening in that storyline than the director likely intended it to. More careful editing could have made that storyline clearer.
Cinematography and Sound: Extremely Memorable
The most important thing I can cover in this review is Squid Game’s excellent cinematography. Its displays excellent cinematography and very good branding. The distinct outfits give the show identity and make it extremely memorable. The masked men uniforms are especially well done because they are simple yet still unique. Whenever someone is looking for a new show on Netflix they’ll come across Squid Game, immediately recognize the uniforms from adds, and think, “Hey, I’ve heard good things about this show.”
Artwork in the building that the show takes place in goes a long way to help give the show a feel. The game rooms look like places that children play, for example one room contains a playground.
Games are filmed particularly well. They keep the audience in a state of suspense with a good mix of close-ups and action shots. My eyes were glued to the screen during the games because I was always worried some of my favorite characters may lose and die.
The sound is well done too. There’s a catchy tune that plays before the start of each game while everyone is looking around trying to figure out what the game is. Also, the gun shots are loud and abrupt, which helps drive the fear of losing.