Parasite may well be a last minute entry, but is easily the best film of 2019, and possibly even the decade. So, what makes this South Korean release so special? Well, aside from being beautifully shot, cleverly scripted and full of vivid and often hilarious characters, it’s down to its central theme – class. Without getting too bogged down in politics, the film is bold in its break down of how class and a society built on wealth, connections and the luck of being born into privilege affects us all and really defines how we think, act and behave.
But let’s not get too philosophical. Parasite is the latest production from writer/director Bong Joon-ho, who rose to international fame with the monster horror picture The Host in 2006, and continued to receive acclaim with the sci-fi cult hit Snowpiercer (2013) and ecological adventure Okja (2017). Parasite ditches the sci-fi and adventure settings for a domestic thriller full to bursting with black comedy, despite rarely moving beyond two very different domestic spaces.
The script, which starts off as a witty, con-artist trickery plot, is crammed full of references to the forthcoming suspense and tension that slowly consumes the Kim family. We get hints at who will be the weak link in the Kim’s scheme through their struggles for money, subtle cinematography pre-empts major scenes and literal relics pop up which will come back to haunt them towards the end.
But what makes it all work are the charmingly scrappy family each with their own arcs, strengths and weaknesses, but who respect and support each other and overall provide a contrast with the upper class Park family they cannily insert themselves into. Not only are the two families contrasted, but their situations too – mass rains cause the Parks to return from a camping trip, while the same weather practically destroys the Kims’ basement home.
Tension is used exquisitely – being steadily cranked up with each scene, adding more and more obstacles in our protagonists’ way, until it reaches breaking point with an intriguing, yet completely out-of-the-blue twist that sends our family into a spiral from which it seems impossible to return. The tension works because Bong spends a lot of time getting to know the Kims, and playfully allows their tricks to prove surprisingly successful, despite their rag-tag, and often improvised nature. That said, the fantastic introductory scene, where the Kims humorously scramble for a decent Wi-Fi signal, is an incredibly nuanced and compact way to set out their relationships, bonds and status in society.
Not getting too much into spoilers, Parasite’s twist turns the story on its head and painfully takes the protagonists to a point of no return which culminates in a melancholic ending, with the audience’s emotions twisted even more by a somewhat cruel fake-out imagined ending. While such devices can be controversial, the masterful storytelling means nothing feels unearned in this film, and that’s what makes it a serious contender for film of the year, if not the decade.
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