Review: Sweet Home Season 1 (2020)
You ever watch a show where a ten episode season feels like two seasons worth of material, but in a good way? That was the case for me with Sweet Home, and I'm not sure if it's just an example of incredibly dense and solid storytelling or if the emotional fatigue the show portrayed really projected well. Either way, this was one of the most satisfying horror shows I've seen in a while and I can't recommend it enough.
Sweet Home is a South Korean apocalyptic psychological horror show based off the webtoon of the same name. The general main character is Cha Hyun-soo, a shut-in who moves into a new apartment complex after the death of his family. As he struggles with contemplating suicide, we also get a slow roll out of the other interesting characters living in the apartment complex.
We get a pretty great range of characters that quickly grow on you, including:
Yoon Ji-soo, a loner musician dealing with her own loss and depression,
A devout (and initially sorta creepy) Christian named Lee Eun-yoo who ends up being pretty good with a sword.
Kick-ass firefighter Seo Yi-kyeong.
And a brutal scarred mystery man who most believe is a gangster.
That's just the icing on the cake as there's dozens of characters in the apartment complex and many of them get extensive spotlights.
As we get our initial character introductions a pandemic of sorts hits. After people start suffering excessive nose bleeding they start to turn into monsters, taking different forms that seem to reflect aspects of the person. This is pretty great as we get a nice broad range of different types of monsters, some utilizing practical effects, some requiring all CGI, and others a blending.
The series is sort of a master class on effective pacing as we bounce back and forth between the struggle for survival and different character arcs. This allows the series to switch gears from body horror, existential horror, tackling mental health topics, and attempting to find any hope possible in a struggle against various forms of despair.
Cha Hyun-so's story works with numerous flashbacks to parse out the background of his struggles with his family, his past of being bullied in school, and every other element of his life that led him to his self-harm and planning for his death. The sudden introduction of new physical horrors and the struggle for survival forces him to reflect more on his life as he's actively battling the 'infection' and fights off turning into a monster. And I air quote 'infection' because there's some interesting possible twists with that element of the story.
While I'm a little burned out on survival horror as a genre, there's something about the balance between character studies and dealing with mental health issues that really elevates this series for me. It also doesn't hurt that as I am more of a fan of monster horror pieces and body horror that there are some really engaging monster designs. There's no real limit as to what they can play around with as we get big chunky juggernaut bois, spider dudes, helpful slime blobs, and plenty of human antagonists as well for your obligatory 'humans are the true monsters' platitudes. Don't worry, not too much of that but they kinda had to toss them in a little bit considering the nature of the show.
Sweet Home might be a little too much for people who may be struggling right now with the way the world is as it doesn't hold back much. However it does feel like it takes an earnest approach on the subject of mental health as it actively represents the brutality of bullying and the other struggles of various characters. Emotionally this feels like a lived in world, and that's something that's often missing in horror stories for me. There's a lot of heart in these characters, and as you get more and more attached to them the show does sort of abuse you a bit by putting them all through the physical and emotional wringer. So if you're already mentally exhausted these days maybe wait a bit, but just know that the series is well worth investing your time in eventually.
Also, I'm now just a fan of actor Lee Jin-wook as his character (the scarred mystery man) really steals a lot of the spotlight.