The Kim family squats in their dank basement apartment, assembling cardboard pizza boxes and trying not to breathe too deeply as fumes from the street extermination waft in from the open window. The piece work doesn’t pay well, but since the whole family is out of work, they can’t afford to pass up an opportunity.
And then, a stroke of luck: the Kims’ son is offered a job tutoring a young girl from a rich family. With some forged credentials, he’s in. Recognizing an open door when he sees one, the son soon proposes his sister (posing as a mere acquaintance) as an art tutor. A few more forgeries later, the Kims have secured two high-paying jobs from a family they increasingly see as gullible. Do they quit while they are ahead? They do not. Mom and Dad are found jobs as well, though by “found”, I mean they set up other employees to be fired, thus “creating” positions for each other.
Their pursuit is so ruthless, you start to question who, if anyone, you should be rooting for. Bong Joon-ho, the visionary director of Snowpiercer, has once again presented us with a treatise on class systems; indeed, class warfare.
A parasite is an organism that needs to leech off something else in order to live. Of course, our impoverished protagonists rely on jobs from their privileged employers, but Bong makes it clear that it works both ways: the rich, unable or unwilling to care for their homes or their children, rely on workers who must do much for little pay. The degree to which the rich allow virtual strangers into their homes and lives is ripe for abuse, and this posh, architectural marvel of a house soon becomes an upstairs/downstairs rebellion with deadly consequences.
As we’ve come to expect, Bong is a master at ratcheting up the tension. The film could stand to be a little shorter, but with so many parts working so well to stun and enthrall, it would be a shame to see any of it go. Once it hooks you, it is relentless. Filled with dread and hardly daring to breathe, we await the inevitable, the walls of the house closing in. No matter how many possibilities you anticipate with increasingly sharp fear, Joon-ho has thought of more. Parasite continues to surprise, never allowing the viewer any footing, the camera work placing us among the Kim family in a heady rush of hubris and anxiety. The film is never less than two things at once; your gut reacts to the horror elements but your head identifies the piercing social satire. The film has darkness in its soul but often makes us laugh as well. It defies classification, a cinematic roller coaster ride that feels brutal and dangerous and necessary and fun.