It's a strange sensation to acknowledge that a piece of art (in this case, Korea's monster-packed Netflix original horror/drama series, Sweet Home) absolutely has undeniable flaws, but that in the same breath I would willingly describe it as one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. It's even more tricky to put that dichotomy into words (I've rewritten that introduction four times and it still probably isn't any good).
On the surface, there's a lot about Sweet Home that is formulaic and by the numbers. Randomly and without warning, people in a Korean apartment building start turning into monsters that attack humans indiscriminately, and it soon becomes clear that this event is not confined to just their place of residence. Our main protagonist is Cha Hyun-su (Song Kang), a quiet and deeply troubled high school student already battling inner demons of his own. The uninfected band together, not only to survive, but also to figure out the nature of the disease, how it spreads and how to stop it. Anyone who's ever seen (or even heard of) a zombie movie will not be in the least bit impressed by that synopsis. However, it's all the tiny, minor adjustments that make all the difference. For example, each monster manifests completely uniquely, and there's a very specific reason for that that I won't spoil here, but it complicates the viewer's assumption that killing them is always the right option. The very nature of the rules of transmission of this disease also defies predictability.
The creature design is absolutely top-shelf; I was left genuinely astounded with my mouth agape at some of the more insane iterations. By extension, the means of overcoming each monster meant the survivors had to adopt a fresh approach each time they needed to take down a new one, although the fact that the rules dictating whether a creature could actually be killed kept changing became a little annoying and inconsistent. The quality of the CGI rendering was also surprisingly hit-and-miss, with some creatures (particularly early on in the series) appearing well integrated and others approaching laughable B-grade standard. Thence, half a star was deducted. Anyway, back to why I loved it.
I have always maintained that a great horror movie could withstand the overtly horrific elements being cut out; Sweet Home also manages to tell such deeply moving human stories that I sometimes didn't realise that almost an entire episode had gone by without a monster sighting. The performance from every single cast member is absolutely outstanding. For good reason, many characters spend a LOT of time crying/wailing, but the story is so well paced and flashbacks so cleverly inserted that each emotional outburst feels truly earned (I won't lie - tears were shed on this side of the screen, too). Most of the ensemble cast settle into their designated cliche Horror Movie Bunkered-Down Survivor Tropes (feat. The Unassuming Leader, The Goofy One, The Crazy Cat (Dog, here) Lady, The Greedy Resource Hoarder, The Outsider etc) but it feels like we arrive at these personality types organically, and their roles often become engaging subplots throughout the 10-episode arc.
Sound good? Just be warned, it's based on a hugely popular webtoon by Kim Kan-bi and Hwang Young-chan and the violence is extremely OTT if you're not conditioned to this brand of digital comic or similar anime. It's visceral, squelchy and very, very bloody. One of the primary early indications that a human is turning into a monster is a cascading nosebleed, the magnitude of which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I haven't seen the footage of the person manually recording the sound that accompanies them, but I hear they're still cleaning up to this day.
The final two episodes begin to steer the narrative in a slightly different direction, which actually creates a welcome shift in tone, but also seems to ask more questions than it answers, seemingly in preparation for a second season. If this never eventuates, then it will be a shame for Sweet Home to have ended the way it does, but it's been such a long time since I've simply enjoyed the experience of watching a TV show this much, I honestly I don't care.
PS: the song played in the credits at the end of every episode ABSOLUTELY SLAPS. I've attached it here for your listening pleasure.
Sweet Home is streaming on Netflix now.