Parasite ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

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Bong Joon-ho's long con. Parasite is representative of both his style and his limitations. What a stellar first act, which moves vertically between semi-basement homes and high-class spaces, tracking the financial gain and life-changing upward trajectory of one family and, most damning, the rich stasis of the other. Never has the visual repetition of a rich businessman trudging home after a loooooong day at work (so sad) been so vicious. Joon-ho's framing allows for the class divide to showcase itself naturally, as with the cutaway to Yeon-kyo watching Ki-woo tutor Ki-jung: the rich observing if the service satisfies her metric, which isn't about whether she's learning, but the pursuit of power and utilizing it productively. Checking her pulse rather than her answers. While the Kim family can't seem to do anything wrong, Joon-ho reveals an effortless yet *constant* performative interplay between what they do to maintain survival and the non-effort of the Park family.

This riveting surface-level dynamic *about* surfaces, and who can afford to openly display their desires and privilege, their hatred and distance, collapses when Joon-ho decides to reveal a subterranean layer to the scenario. While a shocking narrative development, and one which springboards the film towards its tense, queasy third-act, full of sharp formal tricks and detours into physical comedy and horror, Joon-ho loses his way in the exploration of what the Park family isn't aware of. Parasite ultimately slips his hand against the edge he's been sharpening, and it concludes as a film that tortures its low-class protagonists while not utilizing that collateral damage as fuel to accurately explore the scum of the rich.

For instance: the entrance lights. 'The Park family assuming a motion-sensor feature and yet it's all under the control of a poor man living unknowingly in their secret nuclear bunker' is a doozy of a indictment, but it doesn't go far enough. Joon-ho not confronting the fact that the uber-rich are very much aware of their treatment and knowledge of exploiting workers and labor for an effortless lifestyle is a key component that weakens his anger. Sure, the trite cliches of 'poor people smell bad' are there, as is the "we're paying you overtime, so think of it as part of your work" zinger that thrusts the vengeance of the climax into gear, but none of that combats Joon-ho's disregard for the insidious agency of the Park family. There's no rhyme or reason to building up the 'all-or-nothing' desperation of the Kim family only to not indict the family they're working for. "Every house has a bunker like this." - well, duh! Thank you for the reminder. Going back to the broader picture of systemic class divides after setting the dominoes for a critical exposure of their culpability is just plain toothless! Jordan Peele's Us has less slack for the upper-class than this movie!

Anyways, in spite of all that, Parasite still won me over. It moves so well, and skirts a fine line between being ludicrous and outlandish without teetering into either corner. The camping scene is one such example, with the class barriers designed and set into motion with the utmost intent. What I wish Joon-ho would go back to, as in the case of Mother and Memories of Murder, is to acutely damn the object under the microscope, rather than simply letting us know it exists. There's no reason not to send them down to the basement. They know they're there.