It’s a rare thing for an Asian show to trend outside of its home country. South Korean horror drama series Sweet Home has done just that, hitting a top 3 spot globally just behind The Queen’s Gambit and Tiny Pretty Things during December 2020.
Sweet Home bolts straight out of the gate with big monster effects and high-energy camera work. A mutation plague that corrupts people into their darkest desires has swept across the land and threatens humanity’s survival. But, does it have the (many and bulging) legs to keep up the pace?
Any fans of director Sam Raimi’s work or the Resident Evil movie/video game series will feel instantly at home as Sweet Home writhes about in a splatter-soaked start. Predominantly set within a large apartment block, the camera is virtually thrown about the set with carefree aplomb.
Your spinning screen will be, at least at first, stuffed to overflowing with larger-than-life grotesque creations mixing glorious practical effects with passable CGI. The creature feature elements come thick and fast to sucker you in, before slowly slinking to the background as our gaggle of survivors battling against dangers both supernatural and interpersonal gradually flesh out.
Audiences instinctively presume the first main character thread they see will be the protagonist. With this logic, Sweet Home supposedly focuses on Cha Hyun-soo, a high school student who, after unsuccessful suicide attempts and the later death of his family in a car accident, is inexplicably able to resist the infection which is trying to warp him into a monster.
Sweet Home gives Hyun-soo an undeniably cool start (a ‘skip to the end’ intro shows him at full monster and somehow surviving being gunned down by the army) but really struggles to give him any personality or sympathy for the first half of the show. This isn’t helped by Song Kang’s leaden performance which is either teenage mono-syllabic grunts or occasional bursts of OTT hollering. As a lead, he lacks any charisma at all. Thankfully then Sweet Home leans harder on an ensemble cast of ragtag survivors.
A general rule of thumb for the show is to ask yourself the question, “Is this character male and under 30 years old?” If the answer is yes, then they are almost without exception played utterly flat and insipid by the respective actors.
However, with a cast this large there are plenty of winners as well. The female cast is varied and can kick ass (former firefighter Seo Yi-kyung), provide sardonic commentary (former ballerina Lee Eun-yoo), or embody genuinely affecting emotional performances (battered wife Ahn Sun-young and desperate mother Cha Jin-ok). Plus the older guys have stock like wheelchair-bound Han Du-sik who can fashion satisfying makeshift weapons.
In all likelihood, you will know very quickly whether Sweet Home is for you because one thing the show is not is subtle. Big and bold music blares out throughout, albeit often coupled with a cool sequence that will invariably go on rather too long.
The plot device of an apocalypse to force together survivors with clashing personalities and who need to make hard decisions is hardly new. The frequency of babbling monsters drift off as the series progresses so if you find yourself connecting with the characters then Sweet Home will be a fun-filled watch for you. If not, the charms of Sweet Home will live or die (and pulsate) by whether you or not enjoy its forays into comic book nastiness.
For me, even though several characters are as dull as blood-saturated dishwater, there was enough flavour to keep me coming back to the gloopy guts-filled sink for another wincing look. Just remember that the gloop may wink back… For a better Korean show check out The Uncanny Counter!
Words by Mike Record