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TIFF Review: ‘Parasite’ — Trust Us … You Want to See this Movie

Photo Courtesy NEON CJ Entertainment

To talk about Parasite to those who haven’t seen it is tricky. This is the sort of film you want to immediately talk about with the person closest to you, and the sort of movie that you’ll want to recommend to just about everyone you meet — regardless of their preferred film genre. But it’s also a movie that’s best when experienced fresh, just not for the reasons you’d expect. There are plot twists, yes, but this movie is more than just a surprise ending. It’s a movie that constantly transforms itself, and part of the fun is experiencing how it moves from genre to genre. But the best thing about Parasite is that, when all is said and done, the film you’re left with is marvelous—just a different sort of marvelous than the first act would suggest.

That first act follows a poor family living in South Korea. Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is a young man who is desperate to help change his family’s circumstances, but any form of a higher education is a pipe dream well out of his economic means. But an interesting opportunity arises when an old friend recommends that he work for the extravagantly rich Park family by tutoring their teenage daughter. He’s not qualified, but the Park family doesn’t notice and the money is too good to pass up. He takes the job and, before long, starts helping his parents and sister get jobs with the family too. What unfolds plays like a tense comedy of manners, where tension between the rich and the poor slowly builds as the audience wonders when the shoe will inevitably drop and the Parks realize that their doting servants aren’t quite who they say they are.

But something interesting happens, something that won’t be spoiled here. At the halfway point in the film, in the midst of a long sequence, something happens that turns the whole movie on its head. It’s not exactly a plot twist, but rather a new piece of information that re-contextualizes the entire movie and thrusts it into an entirely new genre. The same themes are being explored, but there’s an anger to it that becomes more and more complicated with each new plot element. And, suddenly, both the audience and the characters stop laughing.

This change in genre shouldn’t be a surprise given that the film is directed by Bong Joon-ho, a phenomenal director famous for his ability to blend genres into wholly original beasts. But this feels like something brand new, even for him. While the film’s first act is largely quite funny, the steady raising of the stakes is palpable to the point where seemingly mundane interactions between the characters carry a certain level of tension. Then, when Bong reveals his intentions, the movie’s blend of suspense and comedy becomes a source of welcome chaos. Bong always has control over his tone; when he wants the audience to laugh, he makes them laugh, and when he wants them to sit on the edge of their seat, they follow his lead.

Parasite is a film that will spur hundreds of think-pieces across the Internet—which is a good thing, since talking about the film’s last act is awfully difficult to do without treading on spoiler-filled territory. But what can be said is that Joon-ho has a remarkable ability for instilling his films with a sense of electricity that can rarely be replicated. His camera moves fluidly through each scene, thanks to cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, who always conveys as much information as possible in each frame. But his direction just works so perfectly when matched with his ensemble and his screenplay (co-written Jin Won Han). Everything moves so smoothly, and its transition from dark comedy to just plain dark feels better than seamless: it feels inevitable.

What can be said without spoiling anything is that the ensemble here is uniformly strong, tasked with playing complicated characters that feel grounded in reality but can still handle the more melodramatic scenes. The MVP of the group is Jo Yeo-jeong, who delivers a brilliant comedic performance as the matriarch of the Park family, a character simultaneously riddled with anxiety about any affliction that her family could face but also deeply oblivious to the real signs of trouble around her. In the first act, Jo is very funny and given many of the best lines. But, in the end, her performance carries a different sort of weight—she’s still funny, but in a way that complicates how the audience interpreted her performance in the first act. Also delivering strong work is frequent Bong player Song Kang-ho, who allows his poor patriarch character the chance to slowly unfurl onscreen. And Park So-dam is an absolute joy as Ki-taek’s sister, who sort of enjoys the challenges that come with their con job. But, really, everyone is doing good work here.

To put it simply, Parasite just feels like something important by the time the credits roll. We’ve seen so many films about how the widening gap between the upper and lower class—it’s a theme as old as film itself, amplified even more by today’s economic climate. But Parasite feels like the essential text on the matter. Just as Get Out did in 2017, Bong Joon-ho chooses a social issue to explore and does so in a way that’s deeply entertaining but also incredibly angry. And, as surprising as the plot is, it’s not a movie that hinges on the twist to stick the landing. Instead, like any good tragedy, it asks you to step back and look at all the events that led to its conclusion and how, when you really think about it, those twists aren’t that surprising at all.

Parasite opens in theaters on October 11.

Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.


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