Arts and Entertainment

Has Netflix Finally Created a Good Live Action Adaptation With “Sweet Home”?

Though “Sweet Home” may be lacking in scare factor, its terrific characters and unique plot makes up for it.

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Korea has been gaining recognition lately for its superb horror shows and films, such as “Kingdom” (2019) and “The Call” (2020). The newest release in Korean horror, “Sweet Home,” is an apocalyptic drama that came out on Netflix on December 18. Adapted from a popular comic of the same name written by Carnby Kim and illustrated by Youngchan Hwang on the WEBTOON app, the show follows Cha Hyun-soo (Song Kang), a loner who moves to a new apartment after the death of his family. When people start turning into violent monsters that take on the form of their deepest desires however, he and the other residents must find a way to survive while fighting off their own transformations.

The first indication that something is wrong is when Cha Hyun wakes up from a long nap and walks out to the hallway to find his neighbor devouring her cat. Downstairs, in the lobby, a similar discovery is being made by the other residents. When the gate leading outside is lifted, an extremely tall monster with a long tongue is revealed, and it sucks out the insides of a resident before they manage to close the gate. With the introduction of the monsters, we get our first look at the show’s CGI, which ranges from impressively realistic to distractingly bad. The design of the monsters stays true to the WEBTOON illustrations, and they can look frightening at times, but there are some wonky moments with the CGI. While the realistic textures and the fluid movement in some scenes contribute to a natural flow that blends the CGI with the rest of its surroundings, there are times when the special effects look conspicuously one dimensional and cartoonish. For example, when the gate finally closes in the lobby, the monster makes a last-ditch effort to kill somebody by pushing its tongue through one of the cracks. Unfortunately, the CGI models in this scene look out of place and extremely artificial, drawing attention from what should have been a tense scene.

Despite this, the CGI’s inconsistency does not take too much away from the show, thanks to the heavy emphasis placed on the characters. Besides Cha Hyun, the other main residents include Pyeon Sang-wook (Lee Jin-Wook), a mysterious man who everybody believes is a gangster, Seo Yi-kyung (Lee Si-young), a former firefighter, and Lee Eun-hyuk (Lee Do-hyun), an intelligent medical student who ends up becoming the leader of the group of survivors in the lobby. As the show progresses, we get t see more of their backstories and how their experiences have prepared them to be the key pillars of the community of survivors. Despite the large cast, each character is distinct with their own unique character arc. The acting in the show is also good. The feelings of hopelessness, despair, and fear are incredibly palpable throughout the show. The cast has great chemistry, making the relationships between the characters another strong point in this drama. It was incredible to see the sacrifices that the residents make for each other over the course of the story.

Though the characterization is very good, the pacing of the plot is somewhat lacking. Since the characters have to stay in the lobby for most of the show, there is not as much action as expected. Most of the plot seems to revolve around the characters trying to live normally, which leads to a lack of interaction between the monsters and the survivors. The plot is more psychologically focused and character-driven and has a slower pace up until the last few episodes. Though I don’t mind the slowness of the show, it does detract from the horror and thriller aspects. Though the monsters can be quite visually disturbing, they are rarely presented in a context with the stakes and build-up required to truly scare the audience. The unraveling of the mystery surrounding the origin of monsterization, however, was interesting to watch and is something that I would definitely like to see explored more in the second season. Overall, the dialogue and the writing were enjoyable, but the pacing was slow, and the scare factor was lacking.

Despite the slow plot, the show still manages to discuss many important themes. During the beginning of the show, the monsters are portrayed as the main antagonists, with humanity’s selfish desires reflected in their designs and special abilities. But as the main cast begins to encounter monsters who aren’t dangerous, the question of whether killing these kinds of monsters would be morally right emerges. Additionally, as more and more people begin to show signs of monsterization, the survivors have to decide what to do with them. Is it right to throw somebody who is still human outside where they will almost certainly die? Or should they keep these transforming humans potentially at the cost of their lives? In the second half of the drama, the main enemy turns from the monsters to humans themselves. A new group of humans invades the apartment building, and things turn violent quickly. Suddenly the monsters are no longer the stumbling, frightening creatures lurking outside, but the desperate humans trying to survive no matter the cost. And, in an interesting turn of events, one of the “good” monsters actually helps a little boy hide from the intruders. This reversal of roles raises pressing questions: who are the true monsters in this show? And is there even right or wrong anymore in a world governed by so much chaos and death?

All in all, “Sweet Home,” is an extremely interesting K-drama that puts a unique spin on the popular apocalyptic horror genre. The concept of people turning into their deepest desires allows for commentary on humanity, adding more depth and realism to the show. Though Netflix usually misses the mark when it comes to live-action adaptations, “Sweet Home” is a rare exception. Despite some issues with pacing and CGI, its overall message and excellent characterization make up for its deficiencies. I definitely recommend this drama if you’re looking for something that will keep you interested and give you something to think about.