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In a television landscape littered with new series popping up every week, Netflix’s latest hit show Hellbound stands out for its unexpected and taut narrative.

Made by Yeon Sang-ho, most known for his zombie films, the critically-acclaimed Train to Busan (2016) and its sequel Peninsula (2020), Hellbound is based on Sang-ho’s own webtoon series.

Like Squid Games, Hellbound is a Korean television series, deals in graphically violent deaths and is a commentary on society. It’s tempting to slot the two together, but here is where the similarities end. While Squid Games is an intriguing twist on the familiar fight-to-the-death game genre that was popularised by the cult hit Battle Royale, Hellbound is far more terrifying and thought-provoking.

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With its candy-coloured uniforms, catchy music, props and caricatured villains, Squid Games is highly meme-able and was clearly made with the internet in mind. Hellbound is far more experimental and unfamiliar in its structure and plot — in a good way.

The Korean television web-series Hellbound deals in graphically violent deaths caused by supernatural phenomenon, but is actually a commentary on society and the role of religion

The premise is quite dark: an eerie floating face appears at random to people denouncing them to hell. They are informed of the exact time and day of their death and, on the day of, three monster/demons emerge from another dimension and brutally beat and then incinerate the victims before returning to the realm they came from.

What Sang-ho is interested in exploring though is not the nature of this terrifying supernatural phenomena, or where it comes from, but how society would react to such an arbitrary and cruel force. His answer is of small comfort, but makes for an engaging and cerebral show.

Hellbound packs a lot in its six episodes and is split in two, with the first half showing the initial stages of the phenomenon while the second half picks up on the story a few years later. Yang Ik-june is Jin Kyeong-hoon, a detective in charge of investigating the first such public murder in Korea by the supernatural creatures. Kyeong-hoon is also grappling with his wife’s murderer being let out of prison early.

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