VIFF 2019: Parasite

From Memories of Murder to The Host to Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho has built up a small store of images in my brain. A monster approaching up the shoreline at full tilt. The recipe for a food. That scarecrow. If you’ve seen the films, I bet you can picture them too. Joon-ho’s latest, Parasite, is just as striking. But the images that affected me most are so much more grounded. A mess on a living room table. A search for wifi. The view through one window, and then through another.

That isn’t to say that Parasite isn’t of a piece with Joon-ho’s singular, tonally nuanced, often downright weird takes on recognizable genre stories. As much as The Host was a creature feature, this one’s a domestic thriller about hired help. University and English tutor Min-hyuk shows up at the poverty-stricken household of his friend Ki-woo with a proposition: replace him as a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo has no certification and no formal university? No problem with Ki-woo’s sister Ki-jung’s Photoshop skills. And besides, Min-hyuk says, Mrs. Park isn’t the most discerning person anyway—though he doesn’t comment on Mr. Park.

Soon enough, Ki-woo is being shown around the stunning Park house and meeting his new student Da-hye, and our suspicions that there are more deceptions and more ulterior motives than we know about start to be proven correct. The thing about the early mysteries of Parasite is that the way they unravel is incredibly fun—the movie is funny, and light on its feet, and keeps your expectations and your moral judgments off balance. Even those who found Joon-ho’s previous work inconsistent are likely to find that the shifts and turns in Parasite carry them along. It’s one of those movies that feels inexorable, and just as much so when the lights come on and the party stops in the second half.

And the party sure does stop. The tensions of the movie, some that you noticed, some that you just felt, slowly rise up to consume everything in a series of simple, primally effective sequences. I don’t know if the film is here to convince or just to rage. The movie ends with a question that may be all the more despairing for its open-endedness—or maybe you’ll read it differently, even oppositely, than I did. This is a movie about the here and now, told simply and elegantly, and one in which you’ll see the questions of your own life. It’s a movie with a title that you’ll think of a hundred different meanings for while you watch. It’s a movie that will live in your brain for months after. Hey—like a parasite.