‘Sweet Home’ K-drama review: Humanity hunts for answers in this gory horror-thriller

Early on in Sweet Home, after a monster wreaks havoc and leaves the residents of the very grandly-named Green Home Mansion apartment rattled, one of them is quick with his questions to another resident—a firefighter. “What is the government doing? We’re paying so much tax and they can’t even take care of one monster?,” he asks.

A 10-episode Korean web series that released in 2020 on Netflix, Sweet Home trained its focus on a motley crew of residents that inhabit a run-down housing complex, their stories, and the subsequent struggle for answers as to whether humanity will prevail in a crumbling world overrun by monsters. At the time of its release, the series, based on the webtoon of the same name by Kim Carnby and Hwang Young-chan, was among the few non-english shows to become globally popular on Netflix.

After a four-year gap, there’s finally a sequel in sight — all set to release on December 1 with several actors from the original ensemble as well as a few fresh faces essaying new characters. 

Lee Do-hyun and others in ‘Sweet Home’

Lee Do-hyun and others in ‘Sweet Home’

In the first part, we’re introduced to the residents: Cha Hyun-Su (Song Kang), a depressed high school student whose struggles start much before the emerging monster apocalypse; Sang-wook (Lee jin-wook), a gangster and a man of few words; Seo Yi-kyung (Lee Si-young), a firefighter with nerves of steel; medical student Lee Eun-hyun(Lee Do-hyun) who swings into action and acts as the leader, banding the residents together when calamity hits; his smart-talking sister Lee Eun-yoo(Go Min-si) and young musician Ji-soo (Park Gyu-young), who faces the wrath of a monster early on. She is saved by neighbour Je-Hoon (Kim Nam-hee), a seemingly mild-mannered teacher and devout Christian, whose sword-wielding skills come to good use. 

After a sudden attack by a monster, they are forced to barricade themselves into the building, WIth communication channels down, there’s little information about what is happening in the outside world—they wonder if this is an epidemic, are terrified when a short emergency broadcast by the President ends with him seemingly developing the symptoms that are plaguing many other people, go on to find monsters roaming around inside the building as well, and are faced with a big dilemma when they realise Hyun-su himself is infected and how this could threaten their lives. 

Given the dystopian setting, it isn’t surprising that as most other horror-apocalypse shows have done in the past, Sweet Home trains its lens on how there need not be a disease or an infection to bring out the monsters among us all. The group of residents here are largely self-absorbed, and panicky, and among them is a husband who routinely abuses his wife, as well as a shady character who has abducted and killed children. When the group is faced with the big dilemma of whether or not they should do away with Hyun-su given that he is infected, we see how he is later exploited by the group. Not just to fight the monsters, but to also traverse the expanse of the building and fetch things ranging from cute journals to sunscreen for its inhabitants who stay put in the safer spaces inside. Despite being constantly reminded of his infection and the threat he might pose, Hyun-su, who seems to have the rare ability to suppress himself from transforming into a monster, has more heart than all of them. 

Park Gyu-young in ‘Sweet Home’

Park Gyu-young in ‘Sweet Home’

The proceedings are punctuated with a lot of gore from start to finish, as monsters of various shapes and sizes emerge. The special effects here are quite spectacular. Given the setting, the claustrophobic spaces remain more or less the same through the show — marked by blood-stained walls, flickering lights, sombre greenish-brown hues and little else. As a few residents themselves begin to develop symptoms, which include nosebleeds, hallucinations, and bouts of aggression, things only begin to worsen. While they desperately wait for some sort of help from the outside, it isn’t too long before they realise how much more dangerous that can be. 

Where Sweet Home scores is how it manages to keep its viewers on the edge despite the story often remaining stagnant—the residents largely remain trapped, and don’t swing into action until much later. Yet, there’s something about their bleak, oftentimes depressing reality that has you on your toes, wondering how they’re going to get out of it all. 

A still from the upcoming ‘Sweet Home’ sequel

A still from the upcoming ‘Sweet Home’ sequel

Sweet Home devotes quite a bit of time to its main characters and their backstories as the horror unfolds around them. The ensemble cast, especially Si-young, Song Kang, Do-hyun, Nam-Hee and Gyu-young, are excellent throughout the show. When the big moments do arrive, it all materialises in the latter half of the show. The culmination of all this or the great escape is not without heartbreak, and a very conspicuous lead up to a sequel. 

The trailer for season 2 features several old favourites, coming back and trying to survive in a world that has been irrevocably changed. We see at the end of Season 1 that the army is trying to encourage the public to report the ‘special’ infectees among them, with the assurance that they will be given shelter.

While a few of them were taken away to these shelters, how has this worked out for them? Is humanity even remotely close to figuring out how to battle these infections that seem to prey on human desire? With both the characters and us still waiting for several answers, here’s hoping the sequel works as a worthy extension to a terrific first season. 

All episodes of Sweet Home’s first season are streaming on Netflix. The sequel will release on December 1

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