The South Korean film and television industry is enjoying a renaissance of popularity in the 2020’s. This trend started with Parasite winning the Oscar for Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. It continued with the runaway success of Netflix’s Squid Game, and now the latest import comes in the form of the sci-fi thriller series The Silent Sea. The series shows a mission of a group of astronauts on their way to extract a series of samples of water found on the moon. It’s a chance to save humanity from a drought. Once there, however, they soon discover that they’re not alone and suspect that they’ll be picked off one by one. In addition, the lunar water itself begins to cause its own problems for the crew.
While this is going on, the head scientist (played by Doona Bae) and the captain of the mission (played by Gong Yoo) get into a series of arguments debating what to do to get out of the space station and back home. It’s during these conversations that the tension begins to shine. The scientist is often treated as a joke and consistently feels the need to prove that what is going on in the station is not as simple as it seems. As a result, the Doona Bae character comes off as another solid example of a strong female character in science fiction, much like Ellen Ripley from Alien or Sarah Conner from the Terminator franchise. The captain, meanwhile, often plays the role of a non-violent antagonist. He’s a jerk, yes, but the audience can see that he’s just trying to do his job correctly so he can go home to his child. He just needs someone to show him that his leadership strategy for the mission is wrong. This character dynamic is mostly successful in keeping the series grounded while everything else in the station is going to hell.
The Silent Sea also appears to owe a lot to classic sci-fi of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. From the quiet atmosphere of the moon, which invokes the slower parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the long, dark hallways, which are inspired once again by the Alien franchise, it’s clear that the show’s creators did their homework. It also succeeds in taking some of those tropes and playing around with them in a fun way. The most notable example is a sequence early on where some crew members think they are being chased down a hallway, only to discover that the entity they thought was hostile may actually have been running away from them.
With that being said, not all of these inspirations are integrated in a completely satisfying way. For instance, a subplot involves a large corporation trying to get their hands on the lunar water that feels like it takes inspiration from the cyberpunk genre. It’s still not exactly clear why the lunar water kills people when it is consumed. It’s a little hard to see why they would want it outside of it being a desperate attempt to make money off of a crisis. Unfortunately, not all of the mysteries pay off well, either. When it’s finally revealed what the monster is, the effect itself can come off as slightly silly; even if conceptually it’s a nice twist on the typical “alien hunting down astronauts in an enclosed environment” formula. In short, some of the world-building needs work. They have an opportunity to improve it if the show gets picked up for a second season, but as it stands right now, there are a few too many unanswered questions for it to feel fully satisfying.
While somewhat derivative, The Silent Sea works best as a suspenseful adventure for those who want something directly inspired by classic science fiction stories.