Review: Sweet Home (Netflix)

Based on the comic by Kim Kan-bi and Hwang Young-chan (which is available on Webtoons here) Korea is once again facing a gory pandemic. The good news for recently orphaned teen Cha Hyun-soo is that the run-down apartment block he has moved into is not going to be the focus of a plague of zombies…the bad news is the growing number of “infected” people turn into something far worse…

Actually, I should say “somethings”. The bloody and disturbing charm of the show is its monsters. After initial symptoms of bloody nose bleeds and hallucinations, people transform into idiosyncratic monsters (from a hideous ghoul with a metres long tongue-tentacle, to a giant eyeball, to a spider monster, or an oddly benevolent green-goo creature). The transformations reflect aspects of their original lives but each one is nearly unkillable.

The monsters feel like a cross between The Thing and Attack on Titan but that weirdness aside, the story gradually drifts into a more conventional zombie-apocalypse survival narrative. The small number of survivors trapped on the ground floor of the Green Home apartment bloc, must find ways to band together to protect themselves from the surrounding nightmare. In later episodes they have to deal with an intruding human gang, as well as the secret agenda of the army which (as per usual) knows more about the plague than they are letting on. Luckily, by this point the viewer is more invested in the fate of the ensemble of characters who range from shop keepers to an improbable combination of people with bad-ass backstories.

I had read part of the comic before watching the show, and the initial episodes parallel the comic at times matching individual panels. The same themes of deep psychological trauma in the backstories of key characters (especially the central figure of Cha Hyun-soo) is repeated and in flashbacks we learn about extreme violent bullying and for other characters violent crimes or domestic violence. I’m told that the show and comic diverge quickly and there is a clearer explanation of what is going on with the monsters and how their forms connect to their past life in the comic.

As you can imagine, this is not a show with an even tone. Usually bloody, there is a large amount of quite brutal violence between people that is not directly connected to monster plague. Other aspects of it are comic or maudlin or tragic and the tone can shift dramatically.

Lastly, as I know this is something people like to be assured about, a recurring character owns a dog and by the end of the final episode the dog is alive and well.

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