squid game

Netflix's newest phenomenon: Squid Game

"Squid Game" is the mega hit Korean thriller about playground antics and violent deaths that's blowing up on Netflix. Heard of it? I'm sure you have. And even if you haven't, odds are you've seen memes of it floating around the internet.

This disturbing, gruesome, funny and nostalgic streaming sensation has ignited a ton of online buzz, not least of which being the lawsuit brought to Netflix by a South Korean internet provider over an astronomical surge in traffic. The show has even generated some halloween costume ideas with which to traumatize the neighborhood. And, perhaps most terrifying of all, there's viral "Squid doll" sightings.

So what exactly is "Squid Game"? The show centers around people facing financial ruin, who are given the "opportunity" to make the equivalent of $39 million American dollars. All they need to do is win a series of simple, childlike challenges. The only catch is, if they lose, they die.

Without giving too much away, this is what makes the show truly scary: that people already in dire situations are targeted for their desperation, and pit against one another in meaningless, downright silly "games," and yet beating out the opponent really is a matter of life or death. "Squid Game" in essence is about the "contests" we agree to as part of competition culture and how it forces us to quite literally risk our lives for the sake of money.

This is what we love about the horror genre. It takes actual societal nightmares, like the hopelessness and utter unfairness of wealth disparity, and turns them into glaring metaphors that no matter how hard you try, you just can't look away from. Korean cinema simply has America beat in this territory. We see this not only in "Squid Game," but in the multi award-winning "Parasite," another Korean film that explores similar themes. Their relatable-rather-than-attractive-but-otherwise-dim characters, gripping and relevant story concepts and blending of comedic dialogue with horrific imagery brings audiences into a visceral and emotionally impactful experience in a way the American formula just can't. Or won't.

"Squid Game" takes things one step further than "Parasite." Rather than one singular film, the show offers multiple episodes full of intense cliffhangers, daring viewers to make just one more click. That, and the added intoxicating appeal of recruiting friends to join in on the shared disturbance, is partially why it has become more of a word-of-mouth phenomenon than its film predecessor. After all, what could be more fun than saying to a loved one, "This gave me nightmares. Watch it and tell me what you think."

The show debuted on Sept. 17, and is already about to beat "Bridgerton" as Netflix's biggest original series of all time. That's right, not even the almighty Shonda Rhimes can outswim "Squid Game." Which completely backs my theory that people will choose stories about dystopian murder games over frilly romance any day. Now if only we could find a way to combine the genres. Jane Austen Meets Battle Royale, anyone?

The show is so popular, in fact, that there has been a real-life victim of the Squid Game. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Settle down. No one has died (yet). There is, however, a man getting barraged with up to 4,000 unwanted phone calls a day.

For context: In the first episode of "Squid Game," a mysterious man gives mysterious business cards with a mysterious phone number on it. (Did I mention this show is mysterious?)

People began calling the number out of curiosity, only to find out that it belonged to a real person. The man on the receiving end of the phone calls had not yet seen "Squid Game," and thought he was being pranked. The good news is, he might make a large sum of money off of it, as a Korean politician is offering $85,000 to purchase the number for himself. This man with the seemingly unlucky phone number might get a fortune overnight. Pretty aligned with the show's central themes, if you ask me.

With so much amazing press surrounding it, you'd think we'd be seeing headlines about a season 2. Well, so far there are no plans for that. Regardless, "Squid Game" is a perfect example of what surprises can happen by adding story diversity into our streaming platforms. Clearly, people want shows that are hard-hitting, exciting and make the world seem a little larger, even if the world also feels a bit horrifying.

Watch it, if you dare. But be warned, you might never look at "red light, green light" quite the same way again.