There will be mild spoilers in this review! It mostly focuses on examples of writing tools from the first episode and knowing about the situations mentioned shouldn’t take away from your viewing experience, in my opinion. But if it means you’re more likely to watch the show, then yes—this blog is bursting with bad, terrible spoilers! It actually includes a spreadsheet of all character deaths and relationships and—
If you ever hear me yelling about shows that are overdue for another season, expect to listen to an essay’s worth of conversation about how much Sweet Home deserves it. Released on March 2, 2020, Sweet Home had all the markings of a hit television franchise: fascinating, sympathetic characters; clever storytelling matched with a pace perfect to keep audiences on the edge of their seats; and a rejuvenating spin on the classic, apocalyptic trope the world has come to adore. In addition to the terrifying monsters that have overtaken the city and the apartment complex, the series depicts characters facing hardships in mental health, mistreatment, trust, loss, and navigating the warped perception of morality and obligation that comes with life-or-death situations.
Foreshadowing covers the show with an eerie fog. Within the first twenty minutes of the show, the protagonist Cha Hyun Su narrowly escapes death on two separate occasions. On his way to his new apartment, a furious blade escapes a weedwhacker and is mere inches from hitting him directly in the face; later, we find out that Hyun Su moved here with the intention of taking his own life, and he contemplates jumping from the roof of the building before he is distracted by one of his neighbors. The inclusion of these incidents gives the audience the sense that Hyun Su does not feel like he is in control of his own fate. He considers suicide inevitable and is at the mercy of the world moving around him. At the end of episode one, his nose begins to bleed profusely, a sign that he has been infected with the disease that is turning people into vicious monsters. In literary terms, his contraction of the disease is a manifestation of his lack of power, and it brings him the toughest version of the battle to stay in control of his own mind and ultimately, to stay alive.
There is a lot of situational irony that accompanies a person turning into a monster. Instead of opting for each individual who becomes infected to have the same condition, the writers took a more creative approach. If they cave into the infection, they will become a monster whose design is based on their deepest internal desire. Before her death in Episode One, one of Hyun Su’s neighbors is seen talking on the phone with her friend and petting her cat, saying that she wishes she was able to eat whatever she wanted. Hyun Su is notified that his package of food was placed outside his door, but when he goes to retrieve it, he finds that it has been ravaged, with packages leading to the neighor’s bloodstained door. Hyun Su sees the mangled corpse of her cat before a hand reaches out, pulls it back into the room, and seems to begin feasting on it. He retreats to his room, only to have the neighbor approach his locked door, asking for help; when he refuses, blood begins to poor from her nose, a sign of infection, as she screams about how hungry she is and begins beating on the door with startling strength. Later in the show, a monster with protistic legs is seen running at the speed of light, and a woman who lost her child becomes a large, nonviolent fetus. It is the inclusion of small details like these make the show so captivating; the audience gets these subtle reminders that the monsters were once people with the most human desires we could possibly think of, and it makes us even more fearful about the safety of the characters we have quickly grown attached to. Although, we still experience this spark of curiosity of what kind of monster each person would turn into.
None of the leading characters in this show are perfect or have ideal intentions. Most of the leaders are forced into the position by circumstance, and they are weighed down by the hard decisions that they never wanted to make in the first place. Like other characters, Hyun Su is borderline forced into finding the endurance to fight the infection and, in turn, the trauma that resulted in the dreary mental state we saw at the beginning of the show. In the midst of this atypical situation, the writers present us with an exacerbated version of a common problem: if something positively affects the whole is an individual morally responsibly to make sure that action continues, despite the internal conflict it causes them and others? Written to be eerily relatable, the characters’ circumstances always have the audience asking themselves what they would do if they were in a particular person’s place, which makes the story all the more fascinating.
Sweet Home has a special place in my heart, as it was the first foreign drama that almost immediately reeled me into an emotional connection with the characters. It is truly one of a kind in its content and presentation. Two years without a second season has been a tough ride for its many viewers, but they can find comfort in knowing that the Webtoon the show is based on is available to read in full. https://www.webtoons.com/en/thriller/sweethome/list?title_no=1285&page=1