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A scene in Hellbound.
A scene in Hellbound.
Photo: Netflix






4/5 Stars


Otherworldly beings appear out of nowhere to issue a decree and condemn individuals to hell. These supernatural events cause great mayhem and enable the religious group The New Truth to grow in influence. A few people, however, become suspicious about its activities and begin investigating its involvement in mysterious events.


What is sin, exactly? And who gets to define it? It's a debate that has haunted many religions and faiths worldwide and through the centuries, even causing conflict and death as humans try to become masters of the answer. It's a tough topic for any story, but it's fair to say that few have explored it so deftly and with as fresh insight as Hellbound, Netflix's newest Korean drama-horror. It tackles the question of sin in such a uniquely creepy yet thought-provoking avenue, alongside a twisting plot that doesn't fail to surprise.

Based on a webtoon by director Yeon Sang-Ho, most famous for the cult classic Train to Busan, Hellbound imagines a world where divine condemnations have suddenly become a common occurrence, even in public spaces. Random people are visited by an 'angel', giving them a timeline for their death and informing them that they are hellbound. Upon the minute of their prophesied doom, three monstrous creatures appear out of nowhere, beating their victim to a pulp before blitzing what appears to be their soul to who knows where.

It sounds like the beginnings of a biblical apocalypse, but it's a little more complicated than that. It's human nature to want to rationalise irrational events, something that we've become acutely aware of in the abrupt randomness of a global pandemic. While no one in Hellbound truly knows why these seemingly divine death squads have started targeting the human race, it doesn't take long for religious fervour to start dominating its interpretation in the form of the New Truth, making their own condemnations of the people who receive the decrees as sinners. And where they don't find a sin big enough to warrant hell, they create one, all in a twisted attempt to make the world a more righteous place.

Eventually, the humans become scarier than the actual monsters, as their zealous nature and thirst for spectacle turn into death sentences. It presents a mirror to real-life religious fanaticism, the hoops that certain organisations and people jump through to justify their hate and condemnation of supposed 'sin', and how it can warp people's sense of reality.

But there's more to Hellbound than just the supernatural phenomenon and militarisation of the human soul. Caught in this hellscape are ordinary people trying to make sense of it all, as they try to protect those they deem innocent, despite their decrees. The majority of the characters are parents, concerned with protecting their children from not only the decrees but also public scrutiny, the church and their own shame. The pure love of these parents is heartbreaking to watch as they're put through the grinder time and time again, and an important theme that gets in its final, gut-wrenching punch in the final episode.

This strange show would also be nothing without its cast, made up of phenomenal actors that bring these themes to the forefront of the story, with a deep emotional connection to the stories and an authenticity that shines through. From Kim Hyun-joo's toughness as a lawyer protecting people from the New Truth, to Jeong Min Park's emotional journey as a news producer and new father, to Ryu Kyung-soo's love-to-hate portrayal of the devious priest that heads the cultish church. It's impossible to pick a favourite as every character has very distinct storylines. The story is broken up into two parts - when the first public demonstration occurs and its aftermath and four years after the church has an established chokehold on society. Even side characters made an impression, although the Arrowhead streamer was just a lot to deal with.

Hellbound has an important message to convey, similar to that of Midnight Mass, of the dangers of people who claim to know what real sin is. Thoughtful and sensitive, yet straight to the point, Sang-ho is a master storyteller that expertly uses grounded horror and the supernatural to address real-world issues without diluting the entertainment. Even the end delivers another surprise twist that will make you yearn for another season just to answer the million and one questions it leaves you with. Hellbound really is a show to watch for its very human soul.


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