It seems like the Koreans have gotten this zombie pandemic formula down pat. Sweet Home may be trite at times because you know what to expect from the character archetypes, but still, it has enough surprises to keep you guessing what happens next.
Sweet Home is based on Korean manhwa webtoon of the same name but doesn’t follow it to the letter, or so I’m told. Like its source material, the screen incarnation also has a Japanese anime/manga influence, but the stylistic difference on-screen is more than enough to prove that it has its own thing going – I’m a fan.
The story revolves around a surprise zombie outbreak (like there was any other variety), which traps our cast of characters within the confines of an apartment building. But hold up, they’re not entirely safe from the savagery outside. One by one, the residents fall victim to infection, which starts with a nosebleed of epic proportions – you know, the sort that male anime characters get when they see something naughty – and the survivors have to fend them off as long as they can until the inevitable happens.
You’d be forgiven for your flashes of deja vu – Sweet Home does evoke memories of the Korean zombie smash hit Kingdom. For two seasons, Kingdom had us enthralled with its ‘humans are the cruellest monsters’ rendition of a period drama zombie flick. And guess what, Kim Sang Ho (the prince’s bodyguard Moo Young in Kingdom) is here being his lovable self again as a crippled war veteran with a penchant for building Macguyver weaponry to deal with the infestation of zombie pests.
Anyway, Sweet Home repeats the trick in a modern setting. Hint: don’t expect a constant stream of zombie battles to move the show along. If you’re looking for an action-packed zombie series, then you might have to look elsewhere.
But if you love a show that builds its premise on human drama and flawed characters fighting off their inner demons and ultimately perishing anyway like nothing they did mattered then Sweet Home delivers by the shovelful; pun intended. It is somewhat depressing but in a good way – not every triumph has a right to endure, and we are no less complete as a result. Every character in Sweet Home has their mental scars and they seek redemption as certain death looms. Not everyone finds it, but that is what makes the drama more convincing. However, not everyone gets enough screen time to get a satisfactory resolution for their story as well.
What’s possibly more depressing was the special effects; or rather, the bill for the special effects, which was the lion’s share of the show’s budget. It can be comically bad at times, despite the fact it was done by Legacy Effects and Spectral Motion, who count Avengers and Stranger Things among their past works. In all fairness, they don’t get many anime-style requests very often, do they?
Still, you’ll get past it pretty quickly. It helps that the zombie effects fit in stylistically with the visual treatment, so it gets the job done and doesn’t hurt the show as a visual spectacle. The production in Sweet Home is very competent and doesn’t look out of place in Hollywood.
However, much like a Hollywood blockbuster, there’s not much under the surface. The premise is pretty straightforward, and the series lives and dies by the interactions between the cast members. To Sweet Home’s credit, the series just about shades it for the most part. Just barely. Due to the considerable size of the cast, some characters are simply glossed over. I won’t complain, because the pace of the series is slow as it is. I must admit that I don’t mind the pacing, but I have to be objective.
Sweet Home is dependent on its cast and in this regard, they made the show work. Cha Hyun-Soo’s (Song Kang) reticence is the perfect canvas for his determination to return to his former upbeat self. Seo Yi-Kyung (Lee Si-Young) is barely able to keep it together but she keeps herself moving and her actions are what pushes the story forward. Pyeon Sang-Wook (Lee Jin-Wook) is the stereotypical tough guy with a heart while Lee Eun-YU (Go Min-Si) is the stereotypical ‘tsundere’ but she’s just putting on a front to protect herself. Jung Jae-Heon (Kim Nam-Hee) is from the department of flawed-persons-who-turn-to-religion-to-find solace and is a little over-zealous in the self-sacrifice section of statutes, while Lee Eun-Hyuk (Lee Do-Hyun) is the source of considerable tension due to his cold, unforgiving decision making, and yet the group owes much to him for staying alive.
I could go on, but the bottom line is that human relationships are what make the story. The primary antagonist doesn’t appear until late into the series, and it’s his entourage that kicks up a flurry of activity that shifts the plot into the endgame. Was the payoff worth the slow build-up? Eh, it was kind of cool, but not quite; it’s a nice setup for Season 2 – I’m already intrigued. Still, though, there’s just enough entertainment value here for those rainy, lazy weekends.
Verdict - 7/10
Same old story arcs, but Sweet Home adds just enough twists to make it worthy of a watch.