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There’s little to say about Squid Game that hasn’t already been discussed, right? Right?

Wrong.

Squid Game is obviously the hottest property in television right now. Netflix’s biggest debut programme, worth (almost) a billion dollars for the platform, a shining beacon for all those struggling script writers out there as Hwang Dong-hyuk has been peddling the concept for over ten years now; but you know all this.

So, let’s have a look at it through a different lens.

What if we interpreted one of the key tenets of Squid Game as we would any horror medium?

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Life’s Unfair

You might think this is nonsense. It’s not a horror. And that’s true… kind of.

Violence and horror are not mutually exclusive, and one can be had without the other, certainly. Action movies can be violent, but they certainly aren’t horror. And horror films can be terrifying without a single drop of blood having been shown (although slashers are awesome and always will be). But one thing struck me as I devoured the show (subtitles, not dubbed!) and that was how eerily similar the initial premise reminded me of the SAW franchise.

The Front Man (portrayed by Lee Byung-hun) says…

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Everyone is equal while they play this game. Here, the players get to play a fair game under the same conditions. Those people suffered from inequality and discrimination out in the world, and we’re giving them the last chance to fight fair and win.

And this struck me as reminiscent of the ethos that fuelled Jigsaw after his (spoiler!) wife’s miscarriage and subsequent suicidal tendencies that mutated the foundation of who he was as a human and turned him into the killer we all know and love today.

squid game horror

The anchor that both stories root themselves on is one of rebirth through retribution. The players in the Squid Game go through live or die competition, and the victims in SAW through outside imposed self-mutilation. Each one strips away the subject’s reality and conditions their re-introduction to society via huge emotional or economic change.

Is Squid Game Scary? Yes, If Capitalist Horror Frightens You

Okay, Conner, I can kind of see your train of thought, but there’s still a lot of differences you aren’t addressing.

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One million percent that’s true. And there’s more I could say, but let’s get back to Squid Game and discuss how viscerally terrifying it truly is.

And yes. Squid Game is scary.

One of the key themes through the articles I write is how horror represents something more than just blood, jump scares, and special effects. Even if that’s the studio’s intention, the writers, directors, producers, and actors are all drawing from something, from some place of fear to connect to their roles within the film.

is squid game scary

And Squid Game, to me, is pointing at an exceedingly harsh reality that more of us are aware of now than we were back in 2009 when the script was first shopped about: Capitalism is rigged for the rich.

The sheer audacity of the Front Man’s perceived benevolence towards the players on behalf of the VIP’s we see in he later episodes is astounding. What compounds the insult is the self-righteousness of the quote cited above. Here’s the final line…

And you broke that principle.

Excuse me? What? “…that principle?” That principle is hinged upon the same fallacy used to demonise the poor, scapegoat the middle class, and protect the world’s richest people from losing any money. The Squid Games were never fair, and never could be fair, and that’s why they are so terrifying. They reflect back on us the world that the most powerful people in our society think we live in; one where the same jump suit, same games, same resources make everyone equal and give everyone a fighting chance.

One of the big things made of Cho Sang-Woo (portrayed by Park Hae Soo) is how he got to attend Seoul National University through a scholarship offered by his excellent grades in school. While Sang-Woo has one of the greatest character arcs in the series, his inclusion is also a big hint as to why the Squid Games are not fair, not even remotely.

squid game

The only unifying factor of all the players (bar Player One) is their desperation through fiscal necessity. It presumes that this desperation is motivation enough (combined with the limited choices and resources offered to the players) to even the playing field. We all know that’s not the case. Here is a great visual representation of this!

Cho Sang-Woo has education far beyond any of the other main characters. He’s male. He’s been idolised by his community. He’s essentially eight steps ahead of, say, Kang Sae-byeok (played by HoYeon Jung). Sae-byeok is female, educated to a lower level than Sang-Woo, and foreign to the culture that the games are birthed from. What we see from this very limited character study is how biased the games are towards someone like Sang-Woo.

My Personal Response to Squid Game

From this analysis, I can see the world that Hwang Dong-hyuk created a microcosm of to enhance the relatability of his concept. Is Squid Game scary? It gives me the chills. What chills me is how eerily close it is to our own world. What makes it horrifying is that it is not fiction at all, it is reality.

At least SAW had the decency to be upfront about its brutality.

— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —

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Last Updated on November 15, 2021.

Conner McAleese
Conner McAleese is a current PhD student at the University of Dundee studying 'spaces' in contemporary horror. His debut novel, The Goose Mistress, was published in 2018 by Dark Ink Press and details Eva Braun's experience of World War Two. McAleese now considers himself a horror writer and has had his short stories published in Blood Rites Magazine and Haunting Voices among others. He looks to the 'disturbing' for inspiration, hoping to academically push back the last taboos in literature to analyse what they represent for today's cultural fears and anxieties. However, he hopes to balance this with a satisfying and long career in horror writing. He currently lives in Dundee and is working on his first horror novel.

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