An intelligent scripted TV series that holds a mirror to modern culture was never going to be widely embraced.
Hellbound is a South Korean 6 episode series that sees random members of the community receiving messages warning of their time of upcoming death. Bizarre creates appear, brutally killing the condemned, before disappearing again, seemingly into thin air.
As expected, the increase in killings has severe ramifications on society. The plot starts just as the phenomena begins, taking us through the ensuing years.
Hellbound tackles hard issues, including religion, and government: the symbiosis that develops, and the way religious organisations generally adapt to the fears of the many, while benefiting the few.
South Korean dramas are often lauded for quality writing, and this is no exception. But while critics celebrate the series, less enthused reviews by the everyday global audience are showing more about the reviewers, than the material itself.
The anger of those who don't like to think beyond the obvious; the confusion of those who have lost the ability to process storytelling that isn't simply a spoon-fed linear narrative; the indignation of those made uncomfortable at the portrayal of judgmental and dogmatic mindsets.
The unease of those unwilling to consider the role of religion in their behavioural patterns; the boredom of those for whom television only entertains if it is truly empty of social commentary.
The discomfort of those who see aspects of themselves onscreen, and the outrage of those who want to live in a shallow world rather than imagine reshaping it.
…Do I sound critical? That's because I am. Entertainment doesn't need to be empty, or an endless visceral thrill. Contrary to today’s popular thinking, television that challenges are not inherently flawed.
The creatures of Hellbound are a metaphor for occurrences that humanity cannot explain. In response, society will always attempt to create a suitable narrative. This is the way it has always been. And often, when fear prevails, there is an ugliness embedded in the result.
Many have criticised Hellbound for plot holes, when they actually mean character inconsistencies that accurately reflect human irrationality, especially in the face of an existential crisis.
The pandemic itself has shown humanity’s obsession with choosing a narrative: creating a personal or societal mish mash of beliefs to uphold the idea of a reality they can accept. It can be argued, the discomfort and dissatisfaction with Hellbound arises from resentment at this subconscious tendency being placed under scrutiny.
The unknown has always fascinated writers. Hellbound offers us the result of a society dealing with the unexplainable. It also encompasses personal journeys within this context. Often gritty, and gory, it isn’t fun. It’s brutal, challenging, and riveting.
Characters grapple with existential dread, revenge vs justice, the definition of sin, and the complexities of family. While there are traditionally “good” characters, they are in the minority. Almost everyone becomes flawed and erratic under the pressure.
Equating death with “failed” living permeates the human consciousness. Hellbound takes that vague discomfort and moves it to the forefront. The point of life becomes avoiding premature death.
On the technical front, I loved the dark cinematography and the story’s structure. The cast are outstanding. My only real criticism was that the monster CGI wasn’t as disturbing in the way the story itself. I found the dementors in Harry Potter much more unsettling. I think if they had been amorphous, they would have proven more visually impacting.