Two new drops on Netflix do great jobs pushing the boundaries of their respective genres. Squid Game is a games-inspired Limited Series thriller from South Korea; while Nightbooks is Horror, but with children as the audience in mind.
Squid Game (Netflix, South Korea) – This Limited Series is being highly promoted by Netflix and genuinely lives up to all the promise and hype. It’s Korean TV production now flexing its muscle in the arena of Adventure Fantasy, and showing that as long as they bring the same mindset that they use for RomCom’s, Dramas, and Horror, you really can’t go wrong with the ‘Made in Korea’ stamp nowadays. To describe the series, I’d say it’s a mash-up of Hunger Games and Battle Royale, with the best of elements from Money Heist and Train to Busan. What this guarantees is that beyond the premise of desperate, strapped for cash adults playing children’s games with actual lives at stake when one playfully says ‘You’re dead’, there is strong human drama making us invest in the characters.
The stars of this series make a great point in establishing the back stories of the main cast. In fact, you might forgiven for wondering where this is all going to in the first episode. But one is rewarded by the 30-minute mark, as the protagonist is abducted and brought to the ‘camp’ where a lot of money is at stake for the 456 debt-ridden contestants. That the stakes are so high for failing to abide by the rules of the games soon becomes apparent, and there’s a a lot of grim, black comedy at play. The gallows humor becomes one of the strong elements of the series, while the various characters get their respective narrative strands. What the series does, in the tradition of Train to Busan, is smartly mix the human interest with the action and main storyline.
Nightbooks (Netflix, U.S.A) – Creating a horror-suspense film with children as your intended audience is a dicey proposition, even in the best of times. Play it too safe, and the kids will find it too tepid, and get bored, tuning out. If you ramp up the terror and chills, you’ll have the parents complaining about kids who can’t sleep, or are experiencing nightmares. So finding that sweet spot doesn’t happen all that often. Nightbooks, a Netflix Original adaptation of a JA White novel, is a happy exception. Without patronizing the audience, or going all out with blood or gore, this film manages to provide genuine jump scares, an interesting narrative, and yet, refrains from presenting anything objectionable or risqué. Kudos to the director and cast for maintaining this tightrope act.
Much of the success of this has to go to Krysten Ritter and her lively portrayal of the witch, and the Special Effects that stay imaginative, and crop up with regularity, but without losing the element of surprise. Alex (Winslow Fegley) is a young fan of scary stories and films, and he loves creating his own content, which his parents find a bit strange. When he’s trapped in his own building, in a wicked witch’s magical apartment, the bargain that is struck for him to survive, is that he must successfully tell an original spine-tingling tale every night – or be trapped forever. Directed by David Yarovesky, from a Tobias Iaconis adapted screenplay, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find Sam Raimi’s name in the list of producers. The kids should genuinely like this one.