Hellbound: Season 1 Review – IGN

Hellbound is now streaming on Netflix.

What would you do if you knew the exact moment when you were destined to die? For an unnamed man in the opening scene of Netflix’s latest Korean drama, Hellbound, that question is all too real. He sits at a table in a busy cafe, staring at the clock on his phone, sweat dripping from his panicked face. When the clock strikes 13:20, it is quiet. A moment of relief flashes on the man’s face. And then a thump rages through the streets and he meets his destined fate. A trio of demon-like beasts storm through the city to grab him, knock him unconscious, then burn him in a shell of ashes and bones. It’s a shocking opening to a six-episode suspense-filled series that plunges into a world where the threat of damnation is turning us all into monsters of a different race.

Yeon Sang-ho, the director of Train to Busan, adapts his own webtoon for a six-part series that has quickly become a hot topic on social media. It’s hard not to be immediately intrigued by the premise: People are starting to receive prophecies from strange creatures that they will soon be dragged to Hell for their sins, sending the world into panic and condemnation. That opening scene is a brutal wake-up call to the utter seriousness of this conceit. There are no winks, nods, or sly jokes to break the tension, no meme-ready moments for Netflix to post to Twitter. Hellbound is 100% serious about his bleak new world. For Yeon, however, the focus is less on the creatures themselves, ominous as they are, than on the all-too-human responses they provoke.

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The first half of the series focuses on a disparate group of people who are bound together by the chaos of these creatures. Detective Jin Kyeong-hoon (Yang Ik-june) is summoned to investigate the dead, a task that seems utterly futile as human justice seems utterly irrelevant in this case. Min Hye-jin (Kim Hyun-joo) is a lawyer hired to represent a terrified woman doomed to damnation. And then there’s Jeong Jin-soo, a quiet charismatic figure who heads the New Truth Society, a cult that sees the emergence of these beings as a sign that humanity has strayed from God’s path and must change before it becomes too late. is late. As played by Yoo Ah-in, probably best known to westerners for his surprising performance in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, Jeong is unnervingly normal, devoid of the fire and brimstone preaching you’d expect from a cult leader. He’s handsome, almost cute, and he’s in complete control of every moment. He makes it perfectly understandable why anyone would be taken with his call for a return to Old Testament-style righteousness. It is in those moments when his calm facade falls and we see the real toxicity of his gospel that we, the public, feel his wrath.

The wrath of God is one thing, but the judgment of man proves far more insidious. It seems that society in Seoul does not need time to fall into the trap of hysteria, contempt and religious propaganda. There is no room for nuance in this new world. You are a sinner or you are not, and regardless of the gravity of your alleged crimes, you deserve to suffer. This is most tragically conveyed by the fate of a damned sinner, a terrified single mother named Park Jeong-ja, played by Kim Shin-rok in a heartbreaking performance that makes a series stand out.

Yeon spends three episodes painfully developing the roots of this new world, and then there’s a time jump for the second half of the show that reveals the ramifications. It’s a nervous move of a series that has several twists and turns that will leave you slacking. Had Hellbound ended after Episode 3, it would still have been one of the TV highlights of 2021. Episodes 4-6 show how humanity has changed thanks to the threat of damnation. The sense of despair is still palpable, especially after we meet Bae Young-jae (Park Jeong-min), a detective confronted by the most horrifying news: his newborn baby is on his way to hell.

Even with this fantastic setup, Hellbound maintains a grounded approach to portraying humanity’s eerily familiar response to the improbable. Even the loudest and most mouth-filling responses feel rooted in our own all-too-human ways. It doesn’t seem so bizarre to imagine society’s wealthy elite paying a top dollar to watch a sobbing woman murdered by monsters, or that lawyers negotiate an appropriate price tag for what amounts to a human life. Hellbound doesn’t have a particularly hopeful view of people or our societal coping mechanisms. As you watch these “sinners” ravaged to ashes as the crowd watches, smartphones in hand and none willing to help, the series’ message about the pain of human complicity becomes all too clear. Are people really afraid of hell, or do they just crave blood?

Hellbound’s bold focus is worth investing in.


Don’t come to Hellbound hoping for comforting answers to the questions it asks, or the questions you have about its ideas. This is a show as ruthless as its monsters. Even in the faint moments of hope, the series understands that there’s no guarantee that people who seem to fail at worst in such moments of crisis will actually listen. This kind of incessant nihilism may be too much for some viewers, especially as a viewing choice for dark winter nights amid a pandemic, but Hellbound’s bold focus is worth investing in. If Netflix opts for a second season (which seems likely given the show’s popularity), the possibilities for further darkness seem shockingly limitless.

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