Neighbours From Hell
Based on the web-comic of the same name, Strangers From Hell is an interesting and deliciously twisted horror, one that makes the most of its stylish camera angles and well-placed internal monologues to heighten the tension and mood almost immediately. While the episode leaves many questions unanswered, it’s an impressive adaptation of the source material and so far, looks set to do things in style across this 10 episode drama.
As Typhoon Gimi hits the shores, we begin our drama with a solitary figure creeping through a dark apartment building. As he sneaks inside a darkened room, he finds a laptop with the words “I was waiting for you” ominously waiting for him. As the man turns, he sees a shadowy figure in the doorway who throws him out the door, splintering it into pieces in the process before he’s dragged off and killed.
From here we cut to our main character Jong-Woo who, after receiving a call from his girlfriend Ji Eun, is met with despair as he realizes his laptop screen’s broken en-route to the new city he finds himself moving to. After a failed attempt at winning another, and a further failed barter at the local repair shop, a slick montage segment sees our protagonist start looking for a new apartment, despairing at the cramped and questionable amount of money being charged for each property.
Getting nowhere, he eventually checks the app on his phone and stops, as he finds a promising prospect somewhere in Eden Studio. At an affordable 190 dollars a month, he grabs his stuff and winces as he climbs the steep, unforgiving cobbled streets toward his destination. As the sticky heat encourages sweat to cling to his body, he eventually reaches his destination, looking upon the ominous exterior of Eden Studio.
Despite his initial reservations, he heads inside where the lady at the front desk shows him his room. It’s messy, with dark blotches up the walls and as he pries into just why the price is so cheap, he learns the man who had the room before him died. After some deliberation, he decides to take the room, the cheap price just too good to pass up. Between a silent man staring at him through horn-rimmed glasses and a maniacally laughing resident, Jong-Woo settles into his room and realizes he may have made a grave mistake choosing to stay there after all. It gets worse too, as he checks out the communal areas and sees how bad the hygiene is here.
After phoning Ji Eun on the roof and convincing her he’s staying somewhere different, the maniacally laughing man Deuk-Jong, and silent Nam-Bok begin prowling the corridors together in the night, eventually speaking to someone off-screen before smashing a hammer over their head.
Hearing a thud from upstairs, the next morning Joon-Woo heads up the stairs with the intent on checking out the forbidden fourth floor. However, Deuk-Jong warns him off for fear of the ghost but hides round the corner and smiles as Joon-Woo ponders his words and deliberates over opening the door. While the police scramble to find the culprit responsible for killing a number of cats, Jong-Woo catches up with an acquaintance at dinner. Stepping outside afterward, Jong-Woo has flashes to a time from the military, eventually leading him to break up a fight while maniacally screaming at the aggressor.
As he arrives back at Eden Studio, a strange man carrying a black bag asks him cryptic questions, prompting our protagonist to uneasily walk away. As Jong-Woo enters his room, he senses he’s being watched, until we zoom in to a hole in the wall and find eager eyes watching him. After a strange incident in the bathroom, he sits down with one of the inhabitants of the apartment block, who tells him he needs to move out soon and warns him against growing too close to anyone. As he heads back to his room, paranoia and fear begin to wash over him, as Nam-Bok quietly watches on.
Darkness descends on Eden Studio, prompting footsteps outside as Nam-Bok quietly whispers “kill him or not?” outside, pacing and presumably contemplating whether or not Jong-Woo should be killed. As the doorknob jangles, Jong-Woo awakens, startled, and walks across the hallway to Room 305 where he finds it covered in blood. As the ghostly outline of Nam-Bo charges across the corridor and knocks him down, Jong-Woo awakens in his room to a commotion outside, where Jong-Woo realizes that Deuk-Son has a twin. As all the residents stare one another down in the hallway, Jong-Woo watches on in horror as he realizes the place he’s staying in is the personification of hell on Earth.
With some genuinely creepy characters and a tonally consistent vibe throughout the episode, Strangers From Hell gets things off to a promising start, with plenty to digest ready for the next hour of drama. Stylistically, there’s some really nice work done here to keep the series faithful to its source material too, with quick-fire, rapid cuts helping to give the show a stylish edge. One in particular sees Jong-Woo whip his shirt out infront of him, only to suddenly transport to the communal wash-room some time in the future. It’s a really slick edit and adds some flair to the series, something that’s replicated at various intervals through the episode.
Strangers From Hell does well to keep things mysterious though and the different characters we’ve encountered so far have been diverse and interesting enough to carry the series forward. Quite where this one is likely to go next remains a mystery (especially for those who have no knowledge of the comic) but for now, this is one Korean drama worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.