How Squid Game Works as Mainstream Horror

Reader beware, there be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen Squid Game yet, I highly recommend it. Go watch it and come back here to read this when you’re finished. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Many people have described South Korea’s breakout hit Squid Game as Black Mirror meets The Hunger Games. While I agree with this analysis, I also think it’s worth examining how the show falls into the horror genre. To me, it functions as accessible horror for a more cynical mainstream audience that might not think they’re interested in horror. Squid Game is horror because it juxtaposes a vivid setting with violent content, drills down to center on the human element, and follows the path of a tragedy—complete with a tragic downfall.

Let me break it down. I’ll start off with a summary of the show. While this article will share spoilers, I’ll give you plenty of warning for them. Here is just the show’s premise, so no worries just yet. According to, “Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 45.6 billion-won prize at stake.”

If you’re curious how this show became such a big hit, I’m not covering that here. Countless articles and video essays have already done that. Besides, you follow me for horror, so that will be my focus. I will just mention that Squid Game is chock-full of nihilism, anti-capitalist commentary, and existential dread and go from there.

The Importance of Setting

First off, I want to talk about how effectively Squid Game juxtaposes a vibrant setting with graphic content. Outside the game world, we’re presented with bleak, often rainy scenes of everyday life. Prior to Gi-hun (Player 456) joining the game, he lives in a squalid apartment with his mother, fights with his ex-wife, fails to buy an acceptable gift for his daughter, and barely scrapes by. With such a dismal tone, you’d almost expect the violence and conflict to happen here—but it doesn’t.

Full disclosure, there is a scene in which a machine mangles a manager’s hand, but it happens quickly, and Ali doesn’t reflect on it. The more prevalent, upsetting violence happens in the competition.

From the first episode, we witness the backdrop of the games as bright, open spaces, colorful meandering stairways, and faceless workers in hot-pink jumpsuits. All the games the contestants compete in are traditional Korean children’s games, including Red Light Green Light, Honeycomb, and the titular Squid Game. In the first game, Red Light Green Light, the players try to reach the finish line without being caught by a giant doll-like robot. It seems like this will be a simple game. However, once the game starts, we soon discover its sinister secret—when a player loses, an attendant kills them. Later, pink-suited attendants will place their bodies in coffins and cremate them. When this happens, it comes without warning and piqued my attention.

“Jesus Christ,” I said to my partner. “This shit just got real.”

As the games progress, the setting’s color and brightness do not diminish. For the Glass Bridge, players make their way across the bridge against an expansive backdrop of wide, open space, glaring lights, and dazzling colors. In this game, the scenery is so extravagant that the VIPs watching even comment on it. And, for the very last game, the Squid Game, Gi-hun and Sang-woo face off in the same space as Red Light, Green Light. Sang-woo even reminds Gi-hun that they have come full circle. Squid Game’s self-awareness of this bright-setting-violent-content juxtaposition helps it succeed as horror.

The Human Element

Next, let’s explore Squid Game’s focus on the human element. Anyone who has read my work knows I love character-driven horror. I like a slow burn with personal stakes and flawed people you still root for. Although there is violence and gore in this show, it’s not about the violence. It’s about the players. At the beginning of the show, Gi-hun is an asshole. He lives with his mother and doesn’t help around the house. Nor does he pay alimony or child support to his ex-wife. In fact, he’s so bad with money that he bets it all on a horse race, gets robbed, and has to buy his daughter a gift from a claw machine. He doesn’t seem to care too much about anyone but himself.

With each new character, we get a taste of a similar backstory. Everyone who competes in the games needs the money desperately. They yearn for a blank slate and the fresh start that winning the games present. And even though every character is flawed, we can’t help rooting for them. Sang-woo sucks, but there were parts of the show I rooted for him, too. The writing is phenomenal.

The Tragic Downfalls

Last, Squid Game follows the path of a tragedy—complete with a tragic downfall. Even several tragic downfalls. This falls in line with my previous point on the human element. Since we grow attached to the characters throughout the games, we can’t help hoping they come out on top. As more players die each round, the tension stretches taut until it becomes almost unbearable. Only three players remain after the sixth game, including Gi-hun, Sang-woo, and Sae-byeok. We’ve already witnessed Sang-woo’s tragic downfall. The stakes climb higher when Sae-byeok’s displays her injury and pay off when Sang-woo “mercifully” kills her. This cruel act further cements his place as a tragic figure.

In the last game, the Squid Game, Gi-hun goes up against Sang-woo and tries to hold on to his humanity. He appeals to Sang-woo’s nostalgia by mentioning their shared childhood. Sang-woo kills himself. Gi-hun has won, but at an insurmountable cost. He receives the full payout, but it doesn’t change his life as he expects it to. In the aftermath of the games, he discovers that his mother has passed away. His daughter and ex-wife have moved to the United States. He has plenty of money, but the one thing he thought he needed is something he no longer wants.

A year later, we learn that Gi-hun hasn’t touched his winnings. His unkempt appearance and depressed demeanor betray his mental and emotional state. It’s hard to see him struggling after having overcome so many trials in the competition. Still, more upsetting surprises are in store. He stumbles upon a man playing the same game he played with the mysterious businessman at the beginning of the show. He confronts the player and discourages him from playing the game. When an old woman asks Gi-hun to buy flowers, he does—and finds a gold card with an all-too-familiar logo and a personalized message attached.

The old man from the games survived, and he wants Gi-hun to meet with him. Although the old man is indeed dying, he’s been in on the scheme from the start. While orchestrating the competition, he realized he couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed his life. He decided it would be more fun to take part in the games than to watch them, and so he entered as Player 001. When Gi-hun tries to get more answers out of him, the old man asks him to play one last game—and passes away before Gi-hun gets any kind of closure. This ending left me with a foul taste in my mouth and sympathy flooding my veins. It’s difficult to watch someone go through trauma without getting a genuine payoff.

Netflix’s Squid Game is a perfect pick for spooky season. It makes horror more palatable to anyone unsure of where to start with horror. Although the show contains some graphic scenes, I think most people should be able to handle it. Squid Game is a number-one hit in over ninety countries. Give it a watch and discover what all the fuss is about.

What did you think about Squid Game? Do you think it works as horror?


Happy release day (take two) to my adult vampire novella Mouth Full of Ashes! Since Facebook and Instagram were down for most of yesterday—and since Instagram is my biggest platform—I didn’t see the spike in sales I was expecting. Still, I had a decent launch and am looking forward to seeing the book pick up speed. If you can boost existing promo posts or make your own, I’d really appreciate it. I’m gunning for that gold “#1 New Release Banner,” and I think we can still get there.

I had also planned to host the Instagram live launch last night, but because of the IG outage, I postponed it to tonight, Tuesday, October 5, at 7PM EST. I’d love to see you there!

As far as the book goes, you can grab it in paperback and ebook form on Amazon. You can also add it on Goodreads! Audiobook is TBA but I still want to do it (I just really hate the back end of ACX haha). If you’d like to purchase a signed copy of Mouth Full of Ashes, you can get one here. What else? I have a playlist for the book here, as well as a Pinterest board.

Like I said, my launch was lukewarm yesterday, but I won’t let it get my down. I appreciate any help and support I can get. Thank y’all so, so much for sticking with me and helping me publish this book. We’re so close to hitting $100 per month in support and getting monthly vlogs! If you want to see those as much as I want to make them, please spread the word about this Patreon. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Movie Night Cancellation

Hey, loves. My cold came back around, so I’ll have to cancel movie night tonight and most likely tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted. I apologize, and thank you for understanding!

September Movie Nights Reminder

Hi all! This weekend, we’ll be watching Crimson Peak together. Here are the dates and times:

Friday, September 24 at 8PM EST

Saturday, September 25 at 12PM EST

I look forward to watching with you!


That’s right! DATES. Plural.

Because starting this month, I’m offering two different chances to watch the same movie. Everyone is in a different time zone, so I want to accommodate y’all if I can. With that in mind, here are the dates for movie night (movie choice TBD):

Friday, September 24 at 8PM EST

Saturday, September 25 at 12PM EST

I look forward to watching with y’all!

Weekly Goals and Updates (8/17 – 9/7)

Welcome back. I haven’t checked in for a while because I needed some time away.

Most of you already know this, but here’s the big reason: we took in a newborn kitten that unfortunately did not make it, and I was more attached to it than I thought. Beyond that, I spent several days in Chicago with my best friend. I’ve known her for 20 years, and before I went this past weekend, I hadn’t seen her since 2019! We had a lot of fun. I came back on Tuesday, and caught a cold early Tuesday as well. By Wednesday, I was in bed. I’ve had the same cold since then, and it’s only just now letting up.

Thankfully, I took two COVID tests and both came back negative. It’s just tough because I’m immunocompromised, so even the common cold kicks my ass. Mostly, I just want to sleep through the night without coughing.

Here are the goals I accomplished last week (before Chicago):

  • Edit 10 things on my MFOA checklist
  • Read book for next week’s Fully Booked review

And here’s the one thing I didn’t get to:

  • Finish two chapters of FLOODED

Now, I’m back from vacation and sick leave (more or less), and I’m ready to get things done. Still, I know I need to make plenty of time to rest. Nonetheless, here are my goals for this week:

  • Finish two chapters of FLOODED
  • Write Fully Booked Review
  • Schedule movie nights
  • Try streaming a game in the Discord
  • Work on MFOA revisions

What are your goals for the week? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday Goals and Weekly Updates (8/10 – 8/16)

In a lot of pain from dental work, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Here’s what I accomplished this week:

And here are the two goals I didn’t hit that are my top priority this week:

  • Complete manuscript critique
  • Beta-read a witch book for my friend

Along with a few other goals:

  • Set up cover reveal for MFOA
  • Set up preorder for MFOA
  • Host movie night
  • Hit 10K in FLOODED

ALSO! In case you missed it, I posted the first part of FLOODED here for you to read. And, if you’re joining us for movie night, it’s this Friday, August 20, at 8PM EST. We’re watching THE GRUDGE! Please let me know what trigger warnings you might need.

What are your goals for the week?

Sneak Preview: FLOODED

Hello! Whenever I start a new project, you’ll be privy to the first 10% as my patrons. I’d love to get your feedback on this, so please let me know what you think! Thanks again for your support.

CASE NO: 543

DATE: October 16, 2021

REPORTING OFFICER: N/A; Eyewitness Report

PREPARED BY: Sergeant Andrew McCollum

DETAIL OF EVENT: I struggled to find the right form for this one. It seems the Dawsonville Police Department doesn’t have much protocol for eyewitness crime reporting. The event in question—or the event in question alleged by the eyewitness—refers to the disappearance and presumed death of a few local kids. When I say kids, I mean early twenties with the exception of an eighteen-year-old the eyewitness says tagged along with the group.

The eyewitness walked into the precinct covered in blood and dirt. She looked wet, although I’m not sure what the source was. Small thing, Hispanic, with big eyebrows and dark eyes ringed with mascara. Shoulder-length black hair, I think. Resilient. I don’t know how else to describe her. The eyewitness introduced herself as Olivia Reyes, although she is referred to as Liv. She claimed to have been involved in an accident. At least, that’s what she said at first. It didn’t seem like she had the right words for what she wanted to report, which is the main reason I’ve struggled to detail these events. When my colleague offered to call her an ambulance, the eyewitness declined the offer. She refused to let us check her and asked to speak to the first available officer as soon as humanly possible.

ACTIONS TAKEN: Once I was paged, I took Ms. Reyes to an interview room and offered her a cup of coffee. She accepted. When I brought her the cup, she just wrapped her hands around it and held onto it like she was soaking in the warmth. As Ms. Reyes began to tell me about what had allegedly happened to her, I asked if she had evidence to corroborate her claims. This line of inquiry angered her to the point that she stood and looked like she wanted to leave. I wasn’t about to let something big like this go.

“Why don’t you sit down and finish your coffee first?” I asked. I was hoping maybe after that, she’d feel like talking. I know I should’ve tried to get her processed then, but with no real evidence, I couldn’t charge her with a crime. That also meant I didn’t know how to guide my questions.

Ms. Reyes eyed me warily as she drained the cup. Then, she asked if I could bring her a tape recorder.

SUMMARY: Eyewitness (Ms. Reyes) came to station to report an alleged crime. She presented no physical evidence, but I proceeded with an interview. Eyewitness then requested I bring her a tape recorder so she could share her story. Once I set it down and hit record, the words poured out of her like water.


I don’t know where to start with all of this, so let’s go with the beginning. My name is Olivia Reyes, but everyone calls me Liv. Even when I’m in trouble, my mom doesn’t call me Olivia. This might be the strangest thing you’ve ever heard, but I have to put it out there, have to get it out of me. I’m hoping that these tapes or whatever will give you enough cause to send someone out for a search.

This might be the strangest thing you’ve ever heard, but I have to put it out there, have to get it out of me. I’m hoping that these tapes or whatever will give you enough cause to send someone out for a search. Once I get started, don’t interrupt me. If I stop, I’ll never get started again.

The… incident, as you’d call it, involves my group of friends—Alex Dang, Claire Thibideaux, and Ben and Ryan Jenkins. You might have heard of Alex and Ryan. Several years ago, they got involved in urban exploration. Do you know what that is? It’s like… well, when someone heads into an abandoned shopping mall or a condemned house or whatever. Maybe you won’t believe it, but there’s a pretty big audience for that shit on YouTube. Alex and Ryan’s channel is called Urbexploitation. I used to do their camera work before I moved away.

I guess everything started with Alex’s text. He wanted me to meet him and Ryan in the woods. Having grown up in Dawsonville, you spend your whole life hearing shit about the forest. Our parents told us all to stay away from it, too, which didn’t help. I don’t know if you grew up around here or if you’re familiar with it, but word on the street is that a bunch of kids in the nineties met out there to offer sacrifices to the devil. Then again, that might just have been an offshoot of the Satanic Panic. There are also stories of people who went into the woods and never come out, or people who came out screaming after seeing three-eyed deer or whatever. No one ever has any proof.

Anyway, all Alex said in the text was that if I was really back in town that they could use my camera skills. If it had been Ryan texting me instead, I never would’ve gone. It’s hard to think about that now. Ryan, Alex, and I grew up together, used to play together all the time when we were kids. Ryan and I dated in high school and tried to stay together when I moved away for film school. The relationship… it didn’t work. I cheated on him. Naturally, he wasn’t too thrilled to find that out. Since we broke up, he’s been so resentful of me that any time anyone shows interest in me—even on a friendship level—he starts talking shit about me to turn them against me. It sucks, but there’s nothing I can do about it. And… it doesn’t really matter anymore. Not much does in the wake of all of this.

I grabbed my camera, laced up my shoes, and made sure I had more than enough battery in there to work with. There aren’t exactly hundreds of places to charge when you’re in the middle of Dawsonville Forest.

I should also mention that Ryan’s younger brother Ben was supposed to meet us there. Unlike Ryan, Ben doesn’t have his head all the way up his own ass. The only person I didn’t know there was Claire. She’d more or less replaced me when I’d gone off to film school, so neither of us was thrilled to be spending the day with each other. I’ll get to Claire later.

As soon as I pulled up and got out of my car, Alex came over and hugged me. It was nice, like nothing had changed. Like Ryan hadn’t tried a thousand times to come between us. I didn’t see Ryan’s car, and I understood why when he and Ben got out of Alex’s van.

“Had to steal your mom’s ride again?” I asked Alex.

He shook his head. “It’s the only ride we have now. Rolled the Civic into a ditch.”

“Jesus. Why didn’t I hear about that?”

“Wasn’t exactly my finest moment. I was checking my phone.” He averted his gaze. “Channel notification. Almost got me killed. I’ve learned my lesson, though. I keep the phone in the glove compartment now just to be safe. Avoid temptation altogether.”

Ryan looked at me but didn’t say anything. Ben looked at his brother and hesitated only briefly before coming over to hug me as well.

“Long time no see,” he said.

I’ll describe them for you. I didn’t think about that before, but it might help you… well, I think it would help you identify them.

Alex was tall and well-built. Black stubble, sloping nose, sharp jawline, almond eyes. He’s Korean. Handsome—but that’s not relevant here. Ryan, my ex… I guess he wasn’t bad looking. Shorter than Alex but more wiry and lean. Disheveled blonde hair, short on the sides and maybe a little too long on top for Ryan to keep up with. His eyes are blue. The corners of his mouth turn down a little, making him look like he’s never content. His nose has a narrow bridge, but his nostrils flare. Ben doesn’t look anything like his brother. He’s taller than Ryan and Alex with an athletic build–he plays basketball, or he used to, anyway. He has floppy brown hair swept to one side and warm, brown eyes. Because he spends more time outside, his skin is a little darker than Ryan’s.

So, Claire. Like I mentioned earlier, they replaced me with her after I went away. Looks wise, she’s gorgeous. She intimidated me. Claire is biracial, half French-Creole and half Irish. Her hair is curly and dark, but it’s more of a loose curl. She has freckles across her cheeks and nose. Her lips are dusky rose. My mom had a lipstick in that shade. That’s why it sticks in my head.

Her camera wasn’t as nice as mine. I guess that’s not relevant, either.

As far as I knew then, Claire didn’t like me because Ryan had turned her against me. That’s what he’d tried to do with everyone since we broke up. Since Alex was his best friend, I knew he’d bitched about me to him the most. I was just thankful that Alex seemed to ignore him. He hadn’t treated me any differently than he had prior to the end of mine and Ryan’s breakup. I should’ve told him how grateful I was to him for that.

When Alex introduced Claire, she didn’t shake the hand I offered. Maybe if she had, we would’ve been friends sooner. Might’ve had more time together–or better time, at least. 

After we’d all gathered together, Ryan and Ben took the rafts and the air pump out of the trunk. Ben had a backpack strapped over his shoulders. You might want to look for that, too. It’s army green and has his full name scribbled on the front flap in permanent marker. We headed into the forest in silence. I remember thinking it was an uncomfortable silence, but I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be uncomfortable yet.

The woods were chilly. That’s all I remember prior to entering the bunker. It took us a good while to find the spot, even with Alex’s intel. I’d seen video footage of the bunker on the Internet. It wasn’t exactly top secret. Like I said earlier, other people had explored it. Alex just wanted to explore it all, be the first to traverse the whole thing.

The biggest drawback was the region’s radiation. Three-eyed deer, and all that shit. No one really knows how dangerous the deeper parts of the bunker were, but Alex had a Geiger counter. He said he’d keep us posted. Said we wouldn’t be in danger.

While we walked, he said he was grateful to have all of us onboard. His plan was to make this video and go farther into the bunker than anyone had before. Like me, he had an idea of the dangers that could lie in store. I guess not all of them.

“Zipper Paranormal covered this place once,” said Alex. “His results were inconclusive, but we’re not really looking for ghosts.”

It was weird for him to say that. Alex likes spooky things, but he’s never mentioned ghosts in relation to a video. That’s the thing about urban exploration. A lot of paranormal channels also explore abandoned places, but they’re more interested in what paranormal shit might be there. Not Urbexploitation. It had never been like that.

I think that detail only stands out in my mind because of what we found. What happened to Alex. What happened to everyone in there but me.

I’m sorry. Can I have a minute? I just need to take a break.

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