Reel Critic: ‘Parasite’




The modern thriller has evolved.

This isn’t to reject the conventions or classics of the genre — in every aspect, “Parasite” belongs under the umbrella of a thriller. The film is interspersed with ominous noises and things that go bump in the dark; it is a sinister tale of inter-familial ties. And yet, there’s something far beneath the surface that makes the viewing experience all the more harrowing.

Middlebury’s Hirschfield Film Series brought “Parasite” by director Bong Joon-Ho to campus last Saturday, Oct. 12. At first glance, the movie is centered around two families at opposite ends of the social ladder in South Korea. Situated at their comfortable, upper-class post of affluence are the Parks; in contrast, the Kims struggle to scrape by. Life almost seems too peachy when a talisman bequeathed unto the Kim family ushers in a new dawn of potential wealth as Kim Ki-Woo finds work as a tutor for Park Da-Hye. One by one, members of the Kim family deceive the Parks into hiring them, pooling together more salaries in hopes of making their way up the social ladder.

The film opens up with a shot of the Kims in their cramped underground home. The internet connection is limited — Ki-Woo waves his phone around in desperation, moving his arm from side to side, knuckles grazing the ceiling. It’s almost humorous — after all, we’ve all had problems with reception. Comedic moments reappear throughout the film  as we witness a forgery take place through a quirky brother-sister dynamic, traverse teenage jealousies, and laugh at the gullible nature of a mother.

But the multidimensionality of Bong’s filmmaking is what gets viewers going. From the beginning, the audience feels connected to the Kims. Their poverty draws sympathy as they’re desperate for a way out. Most can understand the simple frustration of cellular reception; most can relate to the simple teenage lovesick drama between Ki-Woo and Da-Hye. It is the simple details that make watching “Parasite” such a rollercoaster as a seemingly normal household dynamic turns rancid. In the midst of wholesome familiarity and relatability, the onset of negativity looms over — slowly, and then all at once.

The film weaves together as Kim Ki-Taek descends into madness through the gradual accumulation of self-deprecation and envy. Song Kang-Ho renders his character incredibly well as he begins to stray from his initial stability, catching viewers by surprise as chaos mirrors chaos in a final climax. Family members are torn apart and the structure is broken — yet the symbiosis between the rich and poor still manages to persist as they are trapped within routine by the end.

Without betraying the plot, it can be said that “Parasite” comes full circle, revealing the shocking, absurd and ugly nature behind the class system through showcasing people at their most vulnerable. From displaying the shallow detachment and haughtiness of upper-class living to narrating dehumanized existences of lower-class individuals in their vicinity, disparity is critically depicted in a portrait of class antagonism.

When one thinks of a thriller, an iconic film like Hitchcock’s “Psycho” might come to mind. Indeed, classic thriller aspects can still be felt in the unsettling atmospheres and discordant notes of “Parasite.” But the film holds a deeper analysis of society, which in contrast to the horror genre amplifies a terrifying  feeling of unpredictability. Every decision is volatile. Bong expertly maneuvers the pacing of the scenes as the plot thickens, building upon itself as we  are left trying to predict events to no avail. It is this same ambiguity that makes “Parasite” special.

Chilling to the core but tugging at your heartstrings in its portrayal of working class families, “Parasite” redefines its own genre in a jumble of cinematographic beauty, cold-sweat-inducing eeriness and meticulous, relatable detail. Walking out of the film, perhaps viewers will be left with more questions than answers  a feeling that only a good mystery can incite.

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