'Parasite' Is a Hilarious, Terrifying Home Invasion Thriller Like You've Never Seen Before
For more Cannes 2019 coverage, read about our favorite movies of the festival.
There is a moment about halfway through Korean director Bong Joon-ho's new thriller Parasite during which it morphs from one movie into an entirely different one. There's the first film, a hysterical comedy about a family struggling to make ends meet who, out of desperation and not a little bit of greed, attempt a hostile takeover of another, richer family's possessions. And then there's the second movie, a terrifying, violent farce that rips open and exposes the indestructible class dichotomy that permeates the foundations of society.
Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) lives with his poor family in a sub-basement apartment, where they siphon off free Wi-Fi from their neighbors or businesses across the street with no password protection, and generally have a hard time of things. But, Ki-woo's buddy has a plan for him: if Ki-woo could finagle himself into tutoring the daughter of the very rich Park family in their district and get her into a good university, his friend could then officially start dating her. Simple enough: Ki-woo's sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam) forges some documents, and Ki-woo becomes a part of the family.
Hoping to increase his own family's wealth, he easily convinces the not-so-bright Park family matriarch (Cho Yeo-Jeong) to take on his sister to tutor their son, and then their father to be Mr. Park's driver, and then their mother to take over the housekeeping. Ki-woo's whole family swiftly and hilariously weaves themselves into the fabric of the Park family's household, living off of their new wealth and enjoying all of their fancy amenities. And then, one wet, thundery night, things get weird.
It's better to go into Parasite knowing only the plot's bare bones, because after that door is opened (both figuratively and literally), there's no going back. (Bong, like Quentin Tarantino, specifically asked Cannes Film Festival attendees not to spoil his movie's finer points.) The film transforms from one thing into an entirely different, entirely more sinister housebound horror where the sins of the past catch up to our heroes with a vengeance.
Bong Joon-ho's movies, which include Snowpiercer (2013), The Host (2006), and the oft-overlooked Mother (2009), have often danced around this formula, giving you plenty of adrenaline and chuckles to keep everything moving before slapping you with the real shit. Parasite is intensely funny… until it's not. You root for a certain side to come out on top… until you don't. It's fun to watch a whole family of scammers take some of the upper class's wealth for themselves for once, but reality, albeit heightened and extremely bizarre, comes for them real fast. There's a distinct sense of frantic despair in the movie's final act that Bong has experimented with before: by the end of his 2017 Netflix-distributed film Okja, his exhilarating movie about a giant genetically engineered mutant pig and the little girl who loves her, our heroes have accepted their inability to fight the system. Through playing the higher class's game, Mija saves her friend -- but only her friend. The violence and death of the sausage factory keeps churning right along as soon as she steps out the door.
Also like Okja, Parasite is intensely emotional: when things go wrong (and they go VERY wrong), you want desperately for our heroes to escape their dire situation, even if there's no feasible way how they could. Parasite is not a sci-fi; there's nothing fantastical about any of it, which is exactly what makes its second half so terrifying. It's so easy for otherwise good and normal people to do terrible things, and it's never entirely possible for them to escape their sins.
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