K-Drama Review: “Sweet Home” Examines How Greed & Despair Breed A Monster In Every Human Being
“Humans are the scariest.” Indeed, Sweet Home‘s most resonating line could not have been said better.
Every place reeks of blood and people scream with anguish and fear. Sweet Home paints the kind of world where violence and gore echo the banality of survival. And in this chaotic world, survival becomes the essence of existence.
Title: Sweet Home
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Themes: Suspense, Thriller, Apocalyptic
Length: 10 Episodes
Broadcast Date: 18 December 2020
Main Leads: Song Kang, Lee Si Young, Lee Jin Wook, Lee Do Hyun
Highlights: Intense Action Scenes, Mind Games & Battle For Survival
Related Drama/Film: Kingdom, #Alive
This Netflix Original series serves us with a fresh take on thrillers that feature supernatural villain – in this case, monsters. While the monster-human friction provides highlights in its plot, Sweet Home detours from using it as the main conflict. It instead uses monsters as a trope to represent a deeper internal human conflict rather than something that insidiously exists in and by itself.
Quick Plot Round Up
(Warning: This contains evocative imageries)
Set in an old apartment building called Green Home, Cha Hyun Soo (Song Kang) moves in as a new tenant. The quiet and reclusive boy now lives alone after everyone in his family died in a car accident. His tragic life seems unbearable that Hyun Soo struggles with depression and contemplates about ending his life.
It does not help that the kind of environment in Green Home doesn’t even provide a healthy space for him. It looks untidy and would easily be mistaken as an abandoned building, if not for the people that dwell in it. The place is not conducive to an average quality living, but it would somehow pass as a decent abode for those who struggle to get by in life.
In addition, most of the residents display an indifferent attitude by imposing their superiority over the others. Nevertheless, there are still a handful who are at least civil, if not warm, towards their fellow residents.
Caught Off-Guard By The Presence Of Monsters
In an unexpected turn of events, horrifying monsters start to appear out of nowhere. The world is suddenly shaken by their presence as they begin to wreak havoc everywhere. These evil creatures with other-worldly powers destroy the daily flow of life.
The monsters kill all the human beings they see, and they especially devour their hearts. After which, they insatiably scream for more.
They come in different forms, with the same intention of sucking humans for food. There is the slimy giant monster which possesses enormous strength. There is also the eye monster whose tongue and limbs can extend to immeasurable length. And then there is the blind monster which has an unbelievable hearing sense.
Human Metamorphosis & The Inescapable Curse
Humans themselves metamorphose into monsters after exhibiting symptoms such as excessive nose-bleeding, passing out and displaying of violent aggressive behavior. In the midst of the chaos outside, the Green Home residents opt to stay inside the building, believing that they are safer inside.
People initially thought that to transform into a monster, one would have to be bitten by one. It is believed to manifest as a disease where one could possibly get infected through physical contact.
But it was later revealed that the phenomenon is rather a curse that humans are destined to experience. Everyone is susceptible from such curse. And it’s just a matter of time and circumstances before they become monsters themselves.
In this dystopic times, self-preservation is instinctive and inherent. Death is inevitable even for some who tried their best to survive. Some of the residents start to show off their selfish tendencies as they fight for survival, whether it’s about getting the basic human necessities or securing a safe space from the wicked creatures. But for the few ones who are left in the midst of the violent catastrophe, a special close bond develops and everyone becomes a kin to the one another.
Desire Breeds Monstrosity
Long before the terrifying situation ensued, a mysterious blogger shared a prophetic post about humans transforming into monsters. As it turned out, the process of metamorphosis goes beyond the physical factors. Hence, the belief that being “infected” causes a person to transform into a monster is entirely false. Instead, it is the person’s character that dictates the likelihood of becoming one.
People who harbor despair and insidious inner desire fall victim into this strange phenomenon. And because such traits are innate to humans, no one is spared. But it can be prevented, which in such case, heavily depends on how a person reacts to circumstances.
The Truth Behind “Monsterization”
Seo Yi Kyung (Lee Si Young) accidentally came across this classified information while searching for her fiance’s whereabouts who has gone missing without a trace. It turned out that her fiance was one of the subjects chosen to take part in the experiment.
In the process, she was caught by one of the soldiers digging into the secret information. She confronted the soldier and demanded information about her fiancé. The latter, however, refused to shed light on the outcome of the experiment.
The “Special Infectees”, Mind Games & Battle To Survive
“Special Infectees” are humans who have exhibited symptoms of becoming a monster, but somehow managed to resist their metamorphosis. This is the case for Hyun Soo whom everyone has expected to transform into a monster from the onset of his symptoms. Strangely he was able to hold out his transformation.
It turned out that human emotions play a huge part in resisting the metamorphosis. The ones who are filled with negative emotions are more likely to completely transform into monsters.
Yi Kyung, who had a confrontation with one of the soldiers, was previously given the option to report special infectees to the military in exchange of a secured space with supplies of basic needs. She then reports this to Lee Eun Hyuk (Lee Do Hyun), the one who stands as the group leader among the Green Home residents. But both are skeptic about the offer and deemed it as too good to be true. One of the men in uniform later disclosed that the military secretly plans to exterminate everyone, suspected monsters or not, in fear of massive monster invasion.
But just then, the military drops flyers tempting the public with this offer. From hereon, the question whether to surrender Hyun Soo to the military becomes an open debate.
Cha Hyun Soo’s Gradual Metamorphosis & The Antidote To Monsterization
The once bright and friendly teenager becomes withdrawn and depressive. Cha Hyun Soo’s pure and innocent view of the world was ruined when he became the object of bullying at school. To aggravate his emotional burden, his family thought that he is an embarrassment to them. Out of resentment, he secretly wished for them to disappear in his life. And then the tragic accident suddenly took their lives. Hyun Soo had too face the harsh truth that he is alone in the world.
He began to contemplate about suicidal thoughts. He even marked a day in his calendar to forego with it. But in a twist of fate, he begins fighting for survival as soon as the monsters start appearing.
Hyun Soo’s inner desire for a sense of belongingness and the loneliness that comes with it became the primary root of being “infected”. He exhibited symptoms early on in the series, but he managed to resist the transformation until the finale part.
This resistance is attributed to his innately kind and giving character. Uncomplaining, he obeyed what he was asked to do by the people at Green Home. He did all the errands for them without hesitations despite the threat of being killed by the monsters.
The finale part showed his complete metamorphosis into a one-winged monster. After being pushed to the limit by another monster of his own kind, his transformation was realized. Yet after emptying himself with all the mounted anger he felt, he transformed back into being a human.
While Hyun Soo manifested monster tendencies, he tried his best to hold on to his humane nature. Hence, he is the middle ground between good and evil. His character somehow serves as a remnant of humanity in an apocalyptic world about to be ruled by monsters.
Lee Eun Hyuk’s Leadership
With his exceptional intelligence and reasonable decision-making process, Lee Eun Hyuk becomes the de-facto leader among the residents of Green Home. His leadership is founded on just and democratic principles – he upholds whatever is good for the majority.
Under his strategic planning, all basic supplies are shared. Food and water are equally divided and rationed to everyone. Even the ones who are already experiencing metamorphic changes are still fed, so long as they don’t hurt people. He also established the quarantine system to isolate the “infectees” from the normal people.
In the finale part, Eun Hyuk knew that he was already experiencing symptoms of becoming a monster. This may have been caused by his intense desire to protect everyone under his wing. By the time the group was able to find their way out of Green Home, he chose to stay inside the collapsing building to isolate himself from everyone. Perhaps, it is to avoid the possibility of indiscriminately killing them by the time he becomes a monster later on.
This Netflix Original is just exceptional, if not perfect to cap off the year. There are too many emotions going on inside me while I process the main points of this series. In both form and matter, the display of artistry of the creators, actors and everyone involved in the production is beyond praise.
Let’s first talk about the tangible aspects of the series. Using monster as a villain is not a rare conflict trope in sci-fi and fantasy thriller genres. But Sweet Home took suspense on another level with its unapologetic intense gore and evocative imageries. Violence was portrayed in a horrifying and gruesome manner. Blood was, therefore, a staple sight all throughout the story.
The storyline overflows with the element of mystery especially in terms of characterization. The last few minutes sends off Seo Yi Kyung as a military personnel after all. Pyeon Sang Wook (Lee Jin Wook), who was believed to be a violent outlaw throughout the series, was also shown appearing in a military uniform. That final scene though begs the question of whether it was indeed his genuine self or perhaps he too had turned into a human monster.
The vague yet impactful closing felt so much like a cliffhanger for a possible sequel. It brings more questions than answers. Are Hyun Soo and Sang Wook on the same boat as human monsters? What will be the plight of the Green Home survivors in the hands of the military. What awaits the apocalyptic world invaded by monsters? Will humans manage to survive as they are or will the principle of natural selection determines the last ones standing? This premiere season is just too good that you’d be wanting for more.
Onto the substantial side of the narrative, Sweet Home’s main arc is embellished with a metaphor. In the grander and more visible scale, a monster is imaginatively depicted as something destructive and dangerous. It kills people. It destroys the natural order of things. This evil entity preys on anything that feeds its insatiable hunger. And humans have every reason to fear them.
Let’s take it into the microcosm of the self and the human emotions. Sweet Home, in a deeper sense, used monster as an allegorical representation of human’s deeply entrenched negative thoughts and emotions. And it is just as dark, destructive and dangerous as the fictional entity that symbolizes it.
The monsters depicted in the series connote human’s hideous nature. The protein monster may symbolize human’s unsatisfying urge for flesh. The eye monster personifies human’s destructive craving for prying over everything. To put it simply, humans breed these monsters through the negative emotions we allow to grow inside us. It is up to us for these monsters to take over the last vestige of our humanity.
Hyun Soo’s case is in itself the most profound example of this. Living in despair and distrust towards people could have easily turned him into a monster himself. But he was able to cling to the remaining signs of humanity in him, thus, resisting process of turning into a brutal monster.
Characters To Root For
Moreover, the character development was given emphasis with a clear and coherent flow for each character’s arc. Most of these characters started off displaying indifference with one another. But circumstances pushed them on the good side. And as the story unfolded, you might not be able to help but to cheer them on in their fight for survival.
At first, Jung Jae Heon (Kim Nam Hee) seems to be the stereotypical pious man who recites bible verses to anyone he meets. But at the course of the battle against the monsters, he was able to practice what he preached until his very last breath. His will to fight the evil monsters is rooted upon his devout spiritual allegiance to God and His people. Lee Eun Hyu (Go Min Si), the younger sister of Eun Hyuk was initially a brash and selfish teenager. She eventually developed into a remorseful character willing to be of good use to anyone who needs help.
Lee Jin Wook, the tsundere-like character, was able to shrug off his gangster image towards the end by his will to save Park Yu Ri (Go Young Jung). The grandfather, An Gil Seop (Kim Gap Soo), wasn’t afraid to die but he wished for a peaceful posterity for those who will manage to survive. So he dug a tunnel for them to escape the Green Home building. There’s the genius and innovative Han Du Sik (Kim Sang Ho), who despite of his physical limitations, was able to help fight the monsters through the improvised weapons he created. He also helped Hyun Soo to continuously have his grip with his humanity.
I can’t stress enough how this series is a masterpiece. This is a great binge-watch treat for anyone who is in for human-monster dynamics, with an in-depth take on the mental and emotional side of humans.