Exit Poll is a series exploring the good, bad, and outright deranged films and events our editors are attending. This week: Mark Burger explains how Parasite, the latest film by Snowpiercer director Bong Joon Ho, is a diabolical and deliciously devious spectacle that’s absolutely the best thing you’ll see in theaters this year.
Fans of Bong Joon Ho’s filmography are no doubt familiar with the director’s taste for coating incisive social commentary inside an exquisite cinematic vision. Take, for instance, his previous two films: there’s Okja, half technicolor adventure romp, half ethical farming manifesto, and Snowpiercer, the climate crisis-slash-class warfare rollercoaster. The typical Bong flick is, then, equal parts rambunctious and reprimanding, and while Parasite is not as ostensibly flashy as, say, a giant train hurtling around a frozen Earth or a genetically engineered super pig, it’s just as sensational, albeit much more intimate.
The film is centered around the Kims, a working class family of four living in a cramped basement apartment, weaseling in tandem from one menial job to the next. Savvy and sly, they are incredibly adept at exploiting everything around them, always wary of a way to swindle their way into someone else’s good fortune or game the system for their personal gain (in one instance, they leave their windows open while exterminators spray the streets above them in order to fumigate their home for free). When the son, Ki-woo, lands a job as an English tutor for Park Da-hye, a wealthy young girl, he and his family scheme to enmesh their lives with the Parks. This rather straightforward premise, however, unfolds into a lustrous tapestry free of excess and exposition. Though it’s runtime–a little over two hours in total–might seem intimidating at first, Parasite quickly steps into a brilliant, breakneck pace as the most twisted episode of House Hunters: International you’ve ever seen.
At once darkly funny and disturbing, Parasite offers tactful commentary on socioeconomic disparities while employing the most, er, startling use of peaches since Timothée Chalamet’s afternoon delight in Call Me By Your Name. It’s a meticulously crafted tragicomedy that bends with ease between the sentimental and cynical, one that is never too humanizing towards the naïve Parks, yet doesn’t overly patronize the scheming Kims. Parasite ridicules societal isms while writhing around inside of them, offering neither a complete condemnation of the absurdly (and obliviously) wealthy, nor the pristine vindication of the most destitute. The film revels instead in the unseen compulsions coiled deep inside the human psyche, a shadowy ouroboros perpetually feeding on its own corpse.