While Netflix is busy promoting more orthodox material that people already know and watch thanks to heavy marketing, they’ve been keeping us in the dark about a beautifully demented, blood-soaked, series that’s been sitting quietly in the corner this whole time. Why isn’t this show under those “Since you watched Hannibal” sections they love to push on you? This show is Hannibal meets a more cohesive version of American Horror Story: Hotel, and it’s exactly as crazy as that combination sounds.
It’s actually unfair to compare Strangers From Hell to any other series because it’s so incredibly unique. A matchless gem hiding amongst many other odd stones. Directed and adapted for television by Jung Yi-do and Lee Chang-hee, Strangers From Hell, originally titled Hell Is Other People, is a psychological horror miniseries (It’s not defined as a miniseries but I’m calling it such because there are only 10 episodes without any news of a second season and it ended on a very conclusion note) from South Korea released in 2019, that’s based on the webtoon of the same name by Kim Yong-ki. The series revolves around a young man who struggles to survive a group of deranged people he encounters while living in a residential building in Seoul, but the focal point of the story is the developing relationship between him and the creepy, yet charming, serial killer who becomes obsessed with him.
From the very beginning, Yoon Jong Woo (Im Si-wan) is a mystery. He is our protagonist but we know almost nothing about him. All we know is that he’s an aspiring novelist with deeply repressed anger issues and is seemingly haunted by an event that occurred in the army, for which he was discharged. He’s just moved to Seoul from his rural hometown thanks to a job offer in the city, and already, he’s starting to struggle.
Barely able to afford even an expensive meal, Jong Woo picks the only apartment he can afford, a.k.a. the one place no one would ever want to live: The Eden Residence. A grimy hellhole in the most obscure part of town run by the creepy Dolores Umbridge-like Eom Bok-soon “Mrs. Um” (Lee Jung-eun). Eden isn’t just a bad place to live but a fraction of Hell that Dante missed during his tour of the place. Remember that crappy apartment they had in Fight Club? Well, it was the Ritz compared to this place.
In addition to Mrs. Um, the other residents include a porn addict, a couple of giggling twins living down the hall, and the strange man in room 304, a serial killer who could outcharm Bundy, Ramirez, and Shobhraj all at once.
Lee Dong-wook shines, and terrifies, as Seo Moon-jo, a respected dentist who moonlights as a merciless serial killer, or as he prefers to call himself, an “artist.” Let’s just say that his denial experience comes in handy while he’s got his victims strapped down and screaming.
He develops a dangerous infatuation for poor Jong Woo, seeing him as a special project he hopes to take apart and put back together. Jong Woo isn’t the first young man to capture his attention but there’s something inside him, something reportedly “special”, that makes Moon-jo believe them to be two of a kind. He believes Jong Woo is like him, a killer, and just needs a little push in the right direction. A push that involves lots of stalking, snooping, more stalking, and murder.
Out of all the serial killer portrays that I’ve seen, Lee’s is definitely in my top five. One of the few where I could almost feel the evil coming off of them in a way that was unsettlingly real. Not evil for evil’s sake, a villain created solely for the hero to face off against but someone you can really believe existed in the world and was a force to fear. He’s not some hideous masked figure hiding in the shadows. He’s the Devil and hell personified in a human form. Lee Dong-wook should get all the awards for this performance. I f***ing loved every second that he was on screen.
Strangers From Hell is a masterpiece of a series that I’m hoping I can convince more people to watch. If not for the actual story, for one of the best TV finales ever written. Showrunners take notes, this is how you end a series! Fannibals? If you’re listening, I promise that this show is right up your alley but don’t expect deep meaningful conversations in front of a fireplace because Strangers From Hell is not murder husbands running off to commit cannibal crimes in Florence together. It’s not a love story, but a dark tale about the dual nature of human beings.
Nothing I can say will give this series justice, nor can I find the proper words to describe my love for it. It’s almost flawless. Made as a “Dramatic Cinema” project which attempts to blend film and drama formats into a series, it’s not formatted as a regular series but more aligned with an ultra-long film. It flows effortlessly without the usual type of breaks that occur in episodic formats.
*Heads up if you’ve never watched a TV show made in Korea. The Korea Communications Standards Commission will blur out things in TV dramas they believe may cause damage to children, among other reasons, so knives and other bladed weapons are usually fuzzed out. It doesn’t affect the gore though. They’ll still show someone getting maimed and tortured but they’ll just blur out the knife that’s doing it.(5 / 5)