Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: People hear predictions on when they will die. When that time comes, a trio of monsters appears in front of them and kills them.
Review: What would you get if you combined the power and control over other people’s lives found in the anime Death Note with the dystopian society found in The Handmaid’s Tale? You might end up with something that looks a bit like Hellbound.
South Korea took the world by storm earlier this year with Squid Game and now we have this beauty brought to us from director Yeon Sang-ho, who also brought us arguably the best zombie movie of all time with Train to Busan. Now I’m not saying Hellbound is as good as Squid Game; in all honesty even with only six episodes there’s a lot here that feels, for want of a better word, bloated. But even with these missteps Hellbound has a lot to offer to those who enjoy shows that are not afraid to go down very existential roads. So with a big old SPOILER ALERT, here are my thoughts on Hellbound.
First let me say I went into this series completely blind. I don’t watch trailers anymore and simply clicked on the “Remind Me” icon Netflix provides because I saw a cool title for a foreign television series, something I’ve been watching more and more of in recent times. So from the opening scene of a man sitting in a coffee shop while nervously staring at this phone with only the time displayed, only to have three giant hulk-like creatures appear and viciously take his life, I was instantly hooked.
As the episodes unfolded and more of the story and its characters revealed I couldn’t help but think of Death Note. For those who aren’t familiar with this anime series that I’ve now mentioned twice (because as Borat would say, “It’s nice!”) Death Note tells the story of a teenage boy who ends up with a notebook which, when he writes the name of a specific person in it, he’s able to cause their demise.
Hellbound feels like it took some of its cues from this story, or at least was inspired by it, especially as we come to know characters like Chairman Jeong Jin-soo, excellently portrayed by Yoo Ah-in. He’s probably most familiar to western audiences who watched #Alive. Jin-soo believes the monstrous beings are sent by God to punish those who have committed sins, and as the story progresses and his motives are revealed fans of anime are sure to draw comparisons to Death Note. But to Hellbound’s credit they don’t only explore the dangers of power and its ability to corrupt those that wield it but the series is also (in its own fantastical way) taking a look at the dangers of putting blind faith in those who claim to have a direct link to the divine.
Without getting too heavy here, you could argue there’s a thin line between cults and organized religion and Hellbound’s main motive seems to be asking people to be wary of believing everything you’re told or the things you hear and see on social media and the internet. And through the different characters on the show these themes are explored.
One of the smartest things the series does is a time jump that takes place after the first episode. After the citizens of Seoul witness someone being “judged” and sent to hell by the creatures, we jump four years ahead to see the aftermath and this does a lot to make the pacing issues of episode one feel justified. We are also introduced to more characters but again, the show focuses in on a few particular ones which in turn helps the story flow better. The country is now controlled through the fear of not only being taken to hell but of having your family shamed because of your choices. And we see those who use these fears to maintain control and gain power in the form of a group called The New Truth.
There are also those who chose to fight against the establishment by helping folks who have been marked for death die in secrecy, and in so doing save their loved ones from being targeted by the blind followers of this new order. Each and every character here feels justified and the performances by the actors keep you invested, whether it’s because you’re rooting for them or hoping they get pulled apart by hell beasts.
The CGI look of the creatures might be the weakest aspect of the entire series as they look so obviously computer generated they pulled me out of the moment every time they popped up. But the action sequences are well choreographed and Yeon Sang-ho knows how to blend horror and drama in a way that makes you feel it every time someone is confronted and killed by these things. The final episode is also perfect in my opinion and with its shocking and unexpected reveal does a fantastic job of making you excited for what’s to come.
Hellbound is by and far the darkest series I’ve seen for the year and yes, I’ve seen Squid Game. Maybe the reason for this is while I did enjoy SG I couldn’t picture something like that actually happening in the real world. Yet even with the “supernatural” elements of Hellbound, this story of how easily ordinary people can be manipulated and controlled through the use of fear, religion and the spreading of lies on social media is a real world occurrence that is presently doing serious damage, making this not just another entertaining horror series but also a well thought out exploration on why it’s important to take everything you’re told to believe with a grain of salt. Make that a whole damn bag.
Sommer’s Score: 7 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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