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Parasite Refreshes Horror with a Hefty Dose of Social Realism

Bong Joon-ho’s terrors proceed endogenously from the scraps discarded by the super-rich.

(Caution: light spoilers.)

By Corey Runkel →

No reviewdrawn inevitably from the vocabulary and lessons of preceding filmswill do the novelty and creativity of Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece justice. Parasite is the best film to be released since Mad Max: Fury Road, possibly since 12 Years a Slave. Parasite’s uncanny setting makes possible its combination of comedy and horror that justifies the second act’s shocking twists. In this way, it can be seen as the Korean and class counterpart to Get Out, with more emphasis on the realism than the horror.

The film is set in a contemporary Metropolis: its sprawling poverty serves the hermetically-sealed homes of the super-rich. Bong dances with the border between these realms, followingclassicallythe help that enters and exits these homes daily. In the title credits, we watch a drunk piss on the English basement-home of our star family, who are unemployed and fail to keep up with the vagaries of capitalism. When an unexpected chance to tutor at the home of a super-rich family opens, our family jumps at the opportunity. This first hour is a riot. Full of wit, we see them exploit the naïvete of the super-rich, locating the meaning behind ‘parasite’.

But Parasite’s trick is its information imbalances. In Act I, our family colludes to carve out for themselves a way to live. Act II see-saws back this imbalance. Events begin to happen to our family rather than by our family. Still, Bong doesn’t shroud us in a JJ Abrams information fog, with terrors leaping out from dark corners of the screen. Instead, we see how the super-rich, themselves, feed off Korea’s underclass, dictating their schedule, their names, their words. Their financial insecurity keeps them in the thrall of this rich family, and pushes them to box out any competitors. These economically-violent delights have physically-violent ends. Where many films inspect class, the invisible fence that separates rich and poor, this film inspects wealth’s first derivative, inequality. Parasite shows how the cherries that top the artisanal cakes drip with the blood of the poor.

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