This article contains mild spoilers. 2.5/5 stars Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho’s prolific run of horror dramas continues with the limited event series Monstrous , which launched all six episodes of its first season in one go on Tving. Though the show is co-written by drama scribe Ryoo Yong-jae ( My Holo Love ) and directed by acclaimed indie filmmaker Jang Kun-jae ( A Midsummer’s Fantasia ), make no mistake about it – this fits squarely into Yeon’s idiosyncratic world of pulpy occult, broken characters and downtrodden humanism, which also includes Hellbound and The Cursed . Just like those titles, this new horror-thriller is stitched together with the zippy pacing Yeon has become known for. Over six half-hour episodes, the show presents a simple two-pronged narrative, dovetailing a horror-mystery with the personal tragedy of its two lead characters. The story and stakes are efficiently introduced but that also becomes the show’s Achilles’ heel, as the story is perhaps too straightforward and overly reliant on high-concept thrills that have by now become very familiar. 8 new Korean drama series to look out for in May 2022 The premise involves the unearthing of a cursed statue of a Buddha’s head known as a “Gwibul”, which sparks mass, violent hysteria when it is carelessly installed in a provincial town hall by an unscrupulous local governor in Jinyang county. Occult expert Jung Ki-hoon ( D.P. ’s Koo Kyo-hwan) is hired by monks to track down the head in Jinyang. To decipher the Tibetan script on the enormous bust, he reaches out to his ex-wife, archaeologist Lee Soo-jin (Shin Hyun-been of Hospital Playlist ), but unbeknown to him she is already in Jinyang studying the Gwibul. Foreboding signs soon start to manifest around Jinyang. Stubborn crows crowd around the Gwibul, dead fish flank the banks of an eerily still pond and black rain pour downs on the region. Before long, certain locals start going berserk, attacking anyone around them as their eyes mysteriously cloud up. The narrative impetus of the show is the quickly escalating threat posed by this supernatural phenomenon, while the emotional drive comes from Ki-hoon and Soo-jin and how their backstory is dredged up by the crisis. The two were happily married and had a young daughter named Ha-young (Park So-yi) but one day she was cruelly taken from them. Both parents still carry guilt about their daughter’s death, and the nature of the calamity befalling Jinyang forces them to relive it. Characters who are affected by the Buddhist statue are each afflicted by visions of their deepest fears, and when they lash out at innocent people around them, in their minds they are actually grappling with their past traumas. Soo-jin is one of them and we get to see through her eyes how she experiences the phenomenon. Her trauma is repeated as though through flashback and gradually she imagines herself in different situations which her addled mind then twists into bastardised and horrifying versions of her terrible loss. These ghoulish dream fragments are probably the most compelling moments of the show, but the concept of a virus or possession twisting and engorging one’s deep-seated fears has already been done a number of times in Korean media of late, and those weren’t terribly impressive to begin with – I’m looking at you Dark Hole . Speaking of Dark Hole , for much of its run, Monstrous also places a group of scared survivors in a confined space who try to keep the monsters outside at bay until their fears pit them against one another. This set-up was initially popularised in Korea through Train to Busan and has been particularly prevalent over the last 18 months, in shows like Sweet Home , Happiness and All of Us Are Dead . Nothing new is added to the mix here. Monstrous makes a big show of things suddenly going haywire in and outside Jinyang County Hall. There’s a deranged farmer with a scythe, someone jumping off the roof and people being run over by cars. Even as survivors retreat to, and barricade themselves within, the lobby of the Country Hall, the carnage never really stops. The show indulges in lengthy bloodletting as possessed locals stab each other repeatedly. The spectacle is bleak, bloody and barbaric but, in a show that doesn’t care to build any of its characters (beyond the bereaved parents who are themselves barely fleshed out), it feels cruel and gratuitous rather than tense and shocking. It certainly isn’t poignant. In his first major commercial outing, director Jang conjures up some suitably foreboding imagery and crisply moves the story forward. In his intimate low-budget works Jang has shown a great knack for combining character and atmosphere. Throttled by the script’s shortcomings, this skill is never afforded a chance to shine here. Ultimately, the clearest indication of Jang’s participation may be the cameos of Squid Game ’s Kim Joo-ryung and Kim Soo-hyun, the leads of his 2012 lo-fi masterpiece Sleepless Night . When shows don’t work it can be pretty simple to pinpoint the elements to blame, but sometimes the problem isn’t with the elements themselves, just that there isn’t enough of them. Monstrous could have used a few more tricks up its sleeve, but most of all it needed more of what matters most: world-building, story and characters. Monstrous is streaming on Viu.