It is not often that I jump on the binge bandwagon. I usually steer clear of anything that has the word “trending” associated with it out of some sort of twisted stubbornness. However, a few weeks ago I stumbled across the dark Korean series, Squid Game, and hit play.
If you have somehow managed to exist in a world without Squid Game until now let me burst that binge bubble and give you the low down. The Netflix drama follows 456 desperate, cash-strapped people who are randomly approached to participate in a serious of children’s games in order to win money. What they find out the hard way is that every player who loses a game will be savagely killed, and only the last person standing will take home the fortune.
The Squid Game premise is not entirely new and the series does have its flaws (did the gold masked VIPs bug anyone else?) but it is one of the most addictive things I have seen in a long time. On the subject of the premise, it got me thinking about other wonderfully dark movies and television shows that also belong to the “death game” genre. Yes, The Hunger Games is a apt addition, but I am going to assume that is too obvious to need a place on this list. Instead I have listed some absolute classics and new favourites you might have missed. Let the games begin!
Alice in Borderland
This Japanese thrill series pre-dated Squid Game and has a fairly similar premise, although it did not experience the same dizzying success. Yet … Alice in Borderland tells the story of obsessed gamer Arisu who, along with two of his friends, suddenly finds himself in a strange, emptied-out version of Tokyo in which they must compete in dangerous games in order to survive. The dark and edgy series gained a loyal cult following and has been renewed for a second season. However, with many wondering what to watch next after Squid Game it looks likely that many a streamer may stumble onto this Japanese gem in due course.
A post-apocalyptic series set in near-future Brazil where life is grim squalor for all except an elite 3% of the population who are chosen to live on the “offshore”, an idyllic paradise. The story follows a group of 20-year-olds who are jettisoned to a sleek testing facility where they will compete in a series of challenges, against each other for the privilege of joining the chosen few on the Offshore.
One of the Goliaths of the “death game” genre, Battle Royale is a must-see for anyone who hasn’t. Battle Royale (2000) tells the story of forty-two ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school who find themselves in a Battle Royale. The students are sent to a deserted Island and instructed to kill each other in a brutal game to the death. The rules are, only one survives – or they all die. It is dark and violent, though also funny and very entertaining. Find out why Quentin Tarantino lists this as his favourite movie of all time. Battle Royale is available for digital rental from Google Play, Microsoft or AppleTV stores.
Where it all began: The Running Man, the classic, the legend. This 1987 cult classic is set in a twisted future where prison is no longer punishment enough and instead the worst prisoners are thrown to the wolves in a fight for survival. Although in this case the wolves are a series of bizarrely dressed psychopaths hired to kill you and your demise is televised on live TV like a game show. Everyone probably has their own idea of the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (if that is your kind of thing), but for me it is always The Running Man. The Running Man is available for digital rental from Google Play, Microsoft or AppleTV stores.
This 1997 film didn’t get a rave wrap when it came out and if you rely on IMDB ratings you may have overlooked it, but Cube is a must-watch for fans of the “death game” genre. The film opens with six Complete strangers waking up in a bizarre maze of cube-shaped rooms, with no idea how they got there. As the strangers try to find their way out of the cubes they realise that almost every way out is fitted with deadly traps. Both the best and the worst of humanity is on display here, with the strangers struggling with the choice of whether to work together or leave everyone else behind in the battle for freedom. Cube is available for digital rental from Google Play, Microsoft or AppleTV stores.
The Maze Runner
In a dystopian future, a group of boys are delivered to The Glade – a large, open expanse ringed by a looming stone maze – with no memory of who they are or how they got there. Their only chance for escape is through The Maze. Adapted from the first novel in the young adult, sci-fi trilogy by James Dashner, The Maze Runner may have been written for young adults but this is a film for all ages. Outstanding acting performances from a talented young cast and a tight script make this a riveting watch. There are two more sequel films, but this first movie is by far the strongest. The Maze Runner is available to stream on Disney+.