From director Yeon Sang-ho (TRAIN TO BUSAN) and based on a popular webtoon of the same name, HELLBOUND is Netflix’s latest Korean series that shows what can be accomplished with great characters, bold ideas, and a challenging story. Hollywood, take note.
The story rolls out a bit like a loose mosaic focused around a bizarre, horrifying phenomenon and how humanity reacts to it, with multiple characters and a three-year jump into the future halfway through the six-part series. The phenomenon is simple: various people are visited by a spirit that tells them the time and date of their death and that they are bound for Hell. At the appointed time, monstrous creatures arrive to smash them to a pulp before whisking them off to the infernal realm.
As the phenomenon becomes widely known, various groups arise saying it is God’s judgment for sins, creating a new worldwide religion based around analyzing the judged sinners and interpreting their sins as pronouncements about God’s will. This new church seems far more concerned with power than truth, however, and its violent adherents go to extreme lengths to shame and attack sinners and their families. If you’re on God’s side and helping with His will, anything becomes justified, including the worst sins. While the judgments and terrible monsters are horrifying enough, particularly the waiting for them to show, the real horror is in how people start to do evil thinking they’re doing good.
Thematically, HELLBOUND reminded me of THE LEFTOVERS, where humanity is faced with an impossible change that stubbornly and maddeningly remains unexplained, and then struggles to project meaning onto it, with varying results. It plays on the idea that the divine isn’t all unconditional love but instead fertile ground for cosmic horror. The show goes so much farther, though, with its powerful intellectual ideas about meaning, religion, what constitutes sin, what role humans have in judging it, and so on.
I absolutely loved this one for its sheer intellectual audacity, challenging ideas, and utterly new take on cosmic horror. Highly recommended.