Now, I know what you might be thinking, “How can a story about a world-ending event not be harrowing?” Well, yes and no. There are a number of films in the zombie apocalypse sub-genre that take a lighter and more comedic approach, for example, Shaun of the Dead, Anna and the Apocalypse, and Zombieland. Sweet Home (2020), however, feels like a beautiful character study that the arrival of nightmare-fueled looking monsters interrupted. Interestingly enough, it’s those monsters that bring out the best, the worst, or both in the people living in Green Home Apartments. Although there are some moments of levity sprinkled here and there, this series deals with very heavy and emotional topics in an unflinching manner. Bullying, self-harm, death, grief, depression, and anxiety are just some of the themes explored throughout the ten episodes as we, the audience, figures out what is going on at the same time the characters do.
Sweet Home is based on a webtoon of the same name from creators Carnby Kim and Youngchan Hwang, but this review won’t focus so much on the web comic, but instead on the Netflix adaptation from Studio Dragon Productions. Directed by Lee Eung-bok, Jang Yeong-woo, and Park So-hyeon, and written by Hong So-ri, Kim Hyeong-min, and Park So-jeong, Sweet Home follows Cha Hyun-su as he moves into an apartment complex called Green Home after the devastating loss of his family. Unfortunately, Hyun-su must confront his pain and loss all while dealing with the disturbing events unfolding inside and outside of his new home.
There’s not much that I didn’t enjoy while watching Sweet Home. I will admit that I thought the pacing could be ramped up just a little. Instead of ten episodes, I think this series would be just as excellent to experience in seven or eight episodes. But, honestly, that’s my only “complaint.” The characters feel genuine, like people either you know or don’t ever want to know. When it is revealed in episode three, I believe, how the monsters are created, it cleverly adds another layer to the characters. Especially when one takes note of who turns and who doesn’t and why.
I wish that I didn’t have to speak so cryptically, but the surprises in this story need to be experienced with fresh eyes. Okay, I will give one short example. In the first episode, we meet a woman named Im Myeong-suk who is walking around the complex with an empty baby carriage. Unless one has lost a child, there is no way to fully understand what that parent is going through. But, everyone has experienced loss and grief in some other way and when we see what happens to her later on, it introduces a visual element of how deeply she misses her baby daughter, Da-eun.
On a much less sadder note, the monsters in this show are incredibly well designed and crafted. There are three creatures that stand out the most to me. The lotus flower monster that shows up to the complex to eat the survivors was created by the Legacy Effects team. At first, I was frustrated with how some characters would stand in shock and do nothing as a monster would approach them. But, after seeing that lotus monster in action, I think my whole body would freeze up, too. It has a long, pinkish-red tongue that reminded me of the tongues those vampire creatures from FX’s The Strain had. The spider monster, created by Spectral Motion, Inc., also comes to mind. How on Earth Yi-kyeong escapes from its webbing without getting too scared is beyond me. The writers explain that she has firefighter training, but still she displays bravery that I might lose given the circumstances. The last creature that stands out for me—although that is not to say that the many other creatures weren’t beautifully done as well—is a hairy monster created by Madness FX. Imagine Cousin Itt from The Addams Family, but much scarier. Green Home has a supermarket run by Kim Seok-hyeon, one of the most abusive and cantankerous characters I’ve seen in any media in a while, and it feels like sweet, sweet karma to witness what happens to him.
Speaking of Seok-hyeon being just downright awful, there is a really delightful character named No Byeong-il, whose name I found really interesting. Now, here’s where I have to give a warning to our Daily Dead readers. This section is going to be me expressing some thoughts and theories about a character as well as what potentially a room number could or could not mean within this series. This may be completely off base, but I am almost two years into my Korean language studies, and Byeong can mean both bottle and disease. If you also consider what the word “no” means in English, it seems that his name says in English, “no disease/no bottle.” When one thinks about Byeong-il as a character, he really does fit that description. He seems pretty emotionally even, kind, and selflessly protective of others. Without spoiling the show for anyone, he steps up to defend the survivors at Green Home and does something he had never done before and, in a way, that deed freed him. It freed him of fear which is something that can keep you and your true self bottled up.
On to even more reaching with my next theory. Du-sik is an older gentleman who lives in room 1408. After saving two children from a horrifying-looking monster that seems to be just a giant eyeball and nerve endings, Hyun-su tells the children that he is going to take them to someone who lives in room 1408 where there is food and safety, which is the complete opposite of the room 1408 in Stephen King’s short story. In King’s story, the room preys on the occupant’s grief until they can’t take it anymore and take their own life. In Sweet Home, Du-sik has experienced great pain and loss like so many others. He mentions to Myeong-suk that he lost two children after he lost his legs, but he doesn’t get taken over by his grief and sadness or desires. In the end, Michael from 1408 changes course. I just thought it was an intriguing parallel between two really great works of fictional horror.
I found myself just as immersed in Sweet Home as the survivors while listening to Mr. An’s old war stories. The way this first season ended, I imagine there are plans to make a second one. There is still much to explore with the characters that remain. This review went longer than I expected, and I didn’t even mention what really happens in much of this show. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I must remind our readers that there are very serious and potentially upsetting topics discussed in this series, but it is done in a way that respects the characters and the subject matter. The visual effects and the action are shot and directed beautifully. The writing breathes life and nuance into everyone, and the OST (soundtrack) is a lot of fun. I didn’t mention the music as to not make this review any longer, but Korean rapper BewhY’s “Side by Side” amped up my energy at just the right times.
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Author: Tamika Jones