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The South Korean Psychological Horror To Watch After Squid Game

"Squid Game" has become an international phenomenon thanks in part to its horror and thriller elements. As viewers finish the series, they're increasingly finding themselves on a search for something to fill the creative void. Korean horror is chock-full of titles that could do just that, and notable among the genre's best choices is "A Tale of Two Sisters." The film's balance of thriller, horror, and dramatic elements creates an uneasy package akin to the current streaming sensation.

Released almost 20 years before "Squid Game," this exploration of trauma and family connection revolves around a young woman's return from a mental institution. Much like the resulting questions surrounding the conclusion of "Squid Game," the film chooses ambiguity over patronizing answers. Its payoffs are far from simple or forgiving; resulting twists and turns have made it a favorite with genre fans and even garnered it an American remake years later (via The New York Times).

A Tale of Two Sisters focuses on maternal instincts

As its title suggests, the film centers on two sisters — Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young). Su-mi returns home and finds her life turned upside down by their stepmother, Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah). This unwelcome addition to the family appears to have ulterior motives, and a husband who keeps his distance from those he professes to love. Su-mi finds herself contending with past events as she tries to unravel tenuous connections with those around her. The results produce a surprising third act that leaves viewers in total suspense.

The psychological aspects of "A Tale of Two Sisters" play very well when matched up to those found in "Squid Game." The Netflix series' characters Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) and Sang-woo's (Park Hae-soo) connection with their mothers echoes the fragile bonds Su-mi finds with her own parental structure. In both "Squid Game" and "A Tail of Two Sisters," it is the maternal relationships that shape everything that is to come. The A.V. Club explains that the film's strength is in how it successfully "integrates horror and family melodrama as if they were one and the same," which is heightened by aesthetic and thematic choices in every scene.

The film sets the stage for terror

Horror and suspense stories like both "A Tale of Two Sisters" and "Squid Game" also rely on unique surroundings to shape their narrative. "A Tale of Two Sisters" turns a secluded Korean mansion into one of its central characters. In a 2003 review of the film, Variety called it "a tour-de-force of pure psychological atmosphere, with the house, full of subdued colors and with a low-key gothic flavor, almost a fifth character." The distinct setting is full of shadowy spaces and extended hallways — each one offering a sense of impending dread. Shots are given time to linger, building up tension without sacrificing the storyline.

A sense of getting lost among the expanses ratchets up the tension — not unlike the mind-bending stairs of "Squid Game," which were confirmed by Director Hwang Dong-hyuk to be based on M.C. Escher's "Relativity" (via Netflix Korea). It's a maze that works on not only the minds of its inhabitants, but the audience as well, as they unravel the location's many secrets. The results are something just as comfortable in the giallo films of Dario Argento as it is in the world of "Squid Game." So for anyone looking for what to watch after finishing the South Korean hit Netflix series, "A Tale of Two Sisters" is the perfect choice.