Bong Joon-Ho directs Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin and Choi Woo-shik in this dark satirical thriller where an unemployed family con their way in to becoming the help for a rich household only to uncover disturbing truths.
One of the pleasures of Parasite is going in as blind as possible. It is a plot that twists and turns almost constantly and to get full pleasure from it you’ll want as little spoiled as possible. Mainstream audiences are often impressed by releases that execute one great narrative rug pull but Parasite has at least three. To steal them prematurely from anyone would be a crime. Possibly it is best to just compare Parasite to the quality films it evokes and if you recognise a few favourites then you know Parasite is for you.
Like all Bong Joon-Ho’s back catalogue, here is a film that defies strict genre adherence – switching from farce to thriller to horror to drama. While sometimes, with The Host or Okja for example, this creates a tonally awkward aftertaste here he blends the phasing from one mode to the next expertly. There is the barbed social wit of a Billy Wilder movie, the disturbing maze-like setting of The Shining, the silent rich versus poor battles of La Régle Du Jeu. I enjoyed the Cinderella aspects of the visuals and note when one major character leaves the party in a rush there are abandoned shoes on the stairs they take. The more violent class war aspects explored in Jordan Peele’s Us are echoed here. There is an apocalyptic flood at one point where toilets spew sewage that feels like a witch’s curse or a biblical plague… one character, rather wonderfully, just sits and has a fag like she expected nothing less from the day.
I always saw in the skeleton of the script a structural borrowing from The Shawshank Redemption. The industrious but down on their luck Kims are characters trapped by financial circumstances and then they find themselves unwittingly breaking into a new prison. This conjures up lots of mini-chapters from a scheme involving peaches to a night spent under the coffee table. Each part, like Shawshank can be split into its own marvellous short story meaning the entire two hours is incredibly dense – rich with detailed characters and overwhelming incidences.
The final coda also shares the hidden message narration, openness and uncertain “happy ending” of the beloved prison drama. What unfurls in the aftermath can be interpreted in a variety of different ways… some flash-forwards can easily be dismissed as cruel fantasy but if you consider our final narrator’s mental state surely all of the last ten minutes needs to be read through a set of eyes with a very shaky, damaged grip of reality. Maybe the family living in the brutalist fortress by close of play don’t look that different after all? Their pictures are arranged the same way? Their diet hasn’t changed? Like Inception, does Parasite have a deeper twist than its most obvious ultimate one?
The joy of Parasite is that here is a film packed with cheeky foreshadowing, clues, misdirection (that “metaphorical” rock!). This obviously opens it up to repeat viewings and continued discussion. Yet I don’t think I’ll revisit it as often as the warm, salty hug of its Oscar predecessor Green Book. It is not as risky or as laugh out loud funny as the equally bleak Birdman. Compared to other Best Picture Winners it is a worthy addition to the pantheon but maybe one that might struggle to become a true favourite in The Carroll Household. That is no diss on Bong Joon-Ho’s precise and elegant direction or the superlative ensemble works which allows all characters to have their fiery moment when their mask slips. I just get the feeling Parasite for me will be a film I admire more than love, respect more than obsess further over.