Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
Parasite is a multi-genre masterwork, consistently escaping any categorization as its plot twists and turns and transforms like a Rubix cube, continually keeping both its protagonists and its audience on an uneven yet endlessly entertaining ground with a steady blend of satirical comedy, adrenalizing thrills, and sheer horror.
With its trailer set to debut tomorrow, I remain anxious to see how Neon decides to promote this film, as I went in without even the faintest knowledge of a simple logline, and I truly cannot recommend a similarly blind approach enough. As such, I will refrain from mentioning any details regarding the plot of Parasite in any capacity.
Thematically, Parasite tackles the sociocultural clash between impoverished family of Kim Ka-taek, his wife, and his two children, as they come to gradually interact with and intertwine their lives with the gloriously wealthy family of Mr. Park, an esteemed Korean architect. The film’s script, penned by its director, the well-regarded Bong Joon-ho, immediately places you in the thick of its protagonists’ struggles, immersing you in the dour environment that the family of Kim Ka-taek lives in. Joon-ho does this without ever feeling exploitative or manipulative in the slightest; you empathize these characters and find personally relatable aspects in their affable familial conversations, but this connection feels effortless and warranted. In addition, because you form this bond with the family at the center of the film so quickly, Parasite instantly establishes your commitment to their later questionable pursuits, so that their ever-escalating actions feel justified and understandable, even as the plot (expertly) spirals out of control. The script also wisely shies away from villianizing any character, and while a lesser film would’ve perhaps made pigs out of Mr. Park and his family, their characterizations are far more fleshed out and ambiguous than you would expect, and Joon-ho continually subverts your expectations with their expected reactions to events that occur in and around their house.
As the plot shifts from screwball comedy to mystery thriller to full out horror, it’s utterly astonishing how Joon-ho manages to keep such a masterful control over his tones and a tight restraint on his social commentary. The film never loses its grounding in reality, even despite some of the more outlandish reveals, and aside from possibly one or two extraneous scenes, it never falters in locking in its audience’s focus and gradually winding up its tension before letting everything erupt in the third act like a volcanic explosion. We are with Joon-ho throughout this entire journey, and most of this is due to the miraculously subtle yet effective character work established in the first 15 minutes; as noted before, because we care so much about the individuals being strained throughout these stressful circumstances, we never stop to question where Joon-ho is taking us, because we’re too focused on fearing for the protagonists’ well-being. Furthermore, while one may assume that Joon-ho’s messaging could get muddled between tonal shift to tonal shift (as other recent satirical social thrillers have faltered), this surprisingly sturdy commentary actually evolves alongside the tonally transformative plot, adding more and more subtext to its portrayal of the plight of the poor in South Korea and the indifference of the rich before delivering the death blow in those final 20 minutes (to say nothing of the utterly impactful epilogue).
Joon-Ho’s direction is just as dynamic as his writing, proving himself adept at altering his style from the way he shoots the broader comedic beats to the genuinely terrifying reveals that continue to arise after the one hour mark. Several scenes seem to establish Joon-ho as the successor to Hitchcock, if there ever was one. His ensemble is equally successful, as each balances the kaleidoscope of emotions demanded of them quite well, with no true weak link in the bunch. Song Kang-ho gets the most mature and shocking sequences as the patriarch of the family of Kim Ki-taek, while Lee Sun-kyun is the perfect opposite side of this same coin as the enigmatic Mr. Park, an eternally alluring figure who toys with your sympathies throughout the entire piece. The women are no slouches either, as Jang Hye-jin shines as the resourceful and rational wife of Kim Ki-taek, Choong-sook, while Cho Yeo-jeong is just as spellbinding in a more stereotypical housewife role as Mr. Park’s spouse, Yeon-kyo, whose undying innocence and innocuousness contrasts sharply with the brutality of the atmosphere of the film as a whole.
Parasite is a puzzle of a film - even when Joon-ho gives you all the pieces of his vision, it isn’t until everything snaps into place by the end of the film’s last scene that you finally realize the true gravity and brilliance of his game. It’s a story that I’m positive will reveals further rewards on future rewatches, and although it’s tough to discuss an d dissect in general terms, you will absolutely walk away with a greater sense of appreciation for Joon-ho’s intentions if you take this leap as blind as possible.
Without a doubt, the foreign language film of the year.