Let me just say that I cannot have enough good things to say about OCN psychological thriller Strangers from Hell, which I decided to watch while I was waiting for Melting Me Softly to end this week. Let me just say that even though this was a polar opposite genre, it was the best decision I could have made. This series was a masterpiece for start to finish.
Synopsis: Jung Woo moves to Seoul from Busan to take an intern job offered to him by a college senior. However, to get by on his measly salary, he can only afford to stay in a dingy old studio where his neighbors look like they’re ready to pounce on him at any minute.
From the very first minute of Strangers from Hell, there’s an immediate sense of intensity that grips the viewers and gets them to tag along as Jong Woo confers with himself. There’s no question that something major was going on with Eden Studio but nothing could prepare viewers for the extreme length that OCN went through to execute the horror element of this series.
From torture chambers, decapitation, strangulation, and even cannibalism, the series goes for the jugular at every turn sparing none of its audiences’ sensibilities. The continuous top shots provide audiences with a glimpse at what was happening in the different rooms of Eden Studio, adding a sense of voyeurism to the series. With thin walls separating the characters, audiences get scared about what can happen to Jong Woo. At the same time, they put themselves in his shoes. What would they do if they were trapped in a studio full of strange people?
The pervert waiting outside with a knife, the twins planning their next kill and Jung Moo watching Jung Woo’s every move. Its too much to contemplate. Meanwhile, the depiction of the cramped rooms gives audiences a sense of claustrophobia and helplessness that Jung Woo must feel, trapped in a place where he feels most unsafe.
Director Lee Chang Hee must have been paying attention in film school because Strangers from Hell employs classic horror elements from legends like Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. The axe on the door was reminiscent of Jack Torrance in The Shining. The Latin choir music in the background as well the shots detailing the activities in the rooms were classic Hitchcock, even the shower scene where one of the crazies was watching Jung Woo and Sun Woon.
Strangers from Hell also masterfully staged close calls that endangered the multiple characters which honestly, made my heart jump out of my chest once too often. From police officer So Jung Hwa, to Jung Hwa’s girlfriend Ji Eun, and all the rest of the people that didn’t have anything to do but mind their own business. Suffice to say, the body count was huge by the end of the drama.
The cast was brilliant. Ms. Eom (Lee Jung Eun, Parasite), the twins (Park Jong Hwan), the pervert (Lee Joong Ok) and Ki Hyeok (Lee Hyun Wook). They were the creepiest bunch of characters I have ever come across and I’m an alum of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Purge and Devil’s Rejects.
However, I was mesmerized by the performances of the two main characters Im Siwan and Lee Dong Wook. I was completely blown away by the depth of their acting and their commitment to their roles. They completely shed their images as matinee idols and delivered award-worthy portrayals of two dysfunctional members of society. Their sense of kinship made it easy for the audience to understand why Moon Jo was obsessed with Jong Woo. On the flipside, Jung Woo’s violent fantasies and real-life sense of oppression made it compelling to watch him wrestle with his personal demons.
Each actor gave as good as they got, and each scene and each interaction showcased Im Siwan’s and Lee Dong Wook’s immense talent as actors. They’re not just pretty faces, these two. They are artists. It might be weird to say it but I’ve come to love them even more after seeing them pull off roles that are far from their comfort zone.
Throughout the series, I felt each emotion, each devastation, each frustration that the characters felt. Not just Jong woo’s. My sympathies altered from Jung Woo to Moon Jo and a part of me was rooting for their psychotic bromance. The lack of remorse and the genuine enjoyment that the serial killers displayed also disgusted me to no end.
Honestly speaking, I was not able to sit through more than two episodes of Strangers fron Hell at a time because of the sheer intensity of this series. However, I have no qualms recommending this to anyone who would have the guts to sit through the graphic content, the violence and the gore. The twist was a nice touch, but the foreshadowing kind of clued me in on the ending before the reveal. All I could say, is congrats, OCN for this masterpiece.