Movie Review: “Parasite” – Under Your Skin

Written by Jeremiah Greville December 13, 2019

Parasite, the 2019 Palme d’Or winner from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, was originally released in theatres in October. Due to a limited theatrical run that’s typical of these sorts of films, it took me until December to finally see it, in this case at a smaller art-house cinema in my city. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been playing at all — even Cineplex, Canada’s largest theatre chain, took to showing it early. Rather, I mention this to both explain this review’s delay and to implore you to seek this film out if you’re at all interested. Sometimes the best movies are the most difficult to find. If you can’t see it in theatres it will without a doubt eventually hit streaming. But if you have the chance, shell out some bucks to see it on the big screen. It’s a fabulous, subversive, viciously funny (and sometimes just plain vicious) Swiss army knife of a film. And it is absolutely, without a doubt, one of this year’s (and decade’s) best.

Parasite stars Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, and Chang Hyae-jin as the Kims, an impoverished family of four (father, son, daughter, and mother, respectively) living in a run-down basement apartment in South Korea. When a rare opportunity arises for the son to pose as a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family, he uses the chance to secure employment for his sister as well. Soon, the entire Kim family is working for the wealthy Parks, having lied and manipulated their way into positions on the payroll. The catch? The Parks have no idea that their new servants are related at all. Parasite also stars Cho Yeo-jeong, Lee Sun-kyun, and Lee Jung-eun. It’s directed by Bong Joon-ho from a script by Bong and Han Jin-won.

“It keeps clinging to me. It keeps following me.”

This film is a masterpiece. Yeah yeah, I know. I get it. But screw subtly — it’s really that good. It’s a wickedly funny and extraordinarily entertaining beast that keeps evolving and captivating in equal measure. I had the strange feeling in the screening that I saw that much of the audience was hesitant to laugh throughout, for fear that they might be undercutting some deeper drama. Please rest easy — Parasite is genuinely hilarious in many scenes, with wickedly funny lines and bits that stick with you well after the credits roll. It’s okay to laugh! But it’s definitely the darkest sort of dark comedy, and has just as much social commentary and drama as it does humour. It’s a strange thing to describe because it does each of these things in equal measure and to equal effect. It’s as dramatic as it is funny, as cutting as it is horrifying, as banal and relatable as it is fantastic. To describe it as the sum of its parts is to do it a disservice.

One of the most masterful aspects of Parasite is how it deals with tension and expectation. The premise is a deviously simple one that you know will eventually blow up and lead to disaster. We all know that something will go wrong for the Kims before the film ends. Bong and the filmmakers know that you know — and that’s the point. Parasite lives in the tension before that inevitable disaster. And because you spend the run-time expecting the other shoe to drop, Bong and Han are able to use that expectation against you, delivering twists that aren’t really twists, turns that feel more like natural evolutions, and revelations that land harder than many horror films. It’s not scary, it just scary good.

“This isn’t in the plan.”

Though it’s not simply the structure and narrative that makes Parasite so incredible. It’s the characters, too. The Kims and the Parks are both presented as relatively ordinary and understandable people. While the Kims are certainly tricking the Parks and manipulating their way into the Parks’ orbit, they’re not doing so maliciously. Likewise, the Parks are not cold or villainous or without charm, despite being wealthy. Both families feel like they’re composed of real people. One of the most refreshing and surprising aspects of Parasite is just how open the Kim family is with one another. They share in each others’ lives without secret or reservation, allowing the story to unfold without the standard infighting we usually get with these sorts of films. I’m not sure if this was a narrative intent or simply a larger cultural reflection, but I loved it.

I won’t spoil any more of the film than what I’ve given of the description so far. That’s really all you need to know going in, and as I’ve mentioned before, the film immediately hints at deeper turns and inevitable fallout. Parasite is a film about class divides, but not explicitly about class warfare. It’s a small film that feels universal entirely because it’s so small. You can feel the depth of Bong and Han’s class critique in each scene, and the smallest moments and faintest touch often deliver the most devastating blows. Like Bong’s 2013 film, Snowpiercer, the metaphor and meaning isn’t hidden — it’s right there on the surface. Yet it never feels insulting or glaringly obvious, but revelatory in the way so few films do these days. It’s spellbinding and illuminating and terrifyingly effective, with a reach that doesn’t exceed it’s grasp and instead grabs hold of far more than expected.

“Respect!”

I can’t heap enough praise upon this film, but there’s a danger that too much of it might dissuade you from seeing it. So instead I’ll close with some general warnings and answers. While it is a drama (as well as a black comedy), it’s not overwrought or intimidating. It is absolutely never boring. Yes, it has subtitles. No, it’s not a horror. Yes, it’s really funny at times (despite the depressing pictures I’ve included) but no, it’s not a pure comedy either. Yes, the title is a metaphor. Yes, it’s really as good as everyone is saying. No, it’s not an epic or a period piece. No, it doesn’t feel dated or cheap — it’s a very modern film, and though it is a foreign film it is perfectly accessible for western audiences. Yes, there is a sex scene that may be uncomfortable to watch in the same room with your parents. No, it’s not graphic. Yes, there is violence. Honestly, it’s just an incredible film that really defies easy review. It’s so good that just saying that doesn’t feel like enough.

See it as soon as you can, and you’ll know what I mean.

My Rating: 9/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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