Although I use them, I find genres too constraining. When Parasite first came out in 2019 many people said it was a horror film. Others called it a thriller. A comedy. A drama. It has elements of all these things. As the first non-American film to win an Academy Award for best picture, it was an irresistible draw. When it would come to a streaming service I already pay for, that is. And having watched it, I still don’t know how I’d classify it. And if you haven’t seen it, how would I describe it? The word that keeps coming back to me begins with the same first couple of syllables: a parable. In case you’re even more out of touch than I am, here’s the skinny on it.
A South Korean film, it’s the story of a poor family (Kim) that, desperate to get out of their circumstances, finds a way to infiltrate a rich family’s (Park) home. The Kims live in a semi-basement flat prone to bugs and flooding. The family’s son gets hired as the Park’s substitute English tutor for their daughter. He recommends his sister (putatively as someone his cousin knows) as an art tutor for the Park’s son. The poor siblings then arrange to have their father (presented as a stranger) hired as the chauffeur, and finally the mother as the housemaid. They live in poverty while working for the wealthy. Then they discover the former housekeeper kept her own family in a secret basement. The homeowners discover none of this, then a garden party goes all wrong.
Laugh out-loud funny in parts, it’s a poignant film that, for me, explores the plight of the clever poor. The wealthy have so much that they can easily support a second family without even noticing any financial loss. The only reason the Parks employ all the Kims, however, is that they don’t realize the Kims are actually a family. By pretending to be unrelated they’re able to survive. There’s a lot to say about this movie. I can see why some people suggest it might be horror—that’s not the usual genre assigned, though. It has a Jordan Peelesque nature to it. The social criticism is fairly intense throughout from trying to syphon off a neighbor’s wifi to cheap solutions to kill the bugs in the apartment. The Parks live in a walled, gated paradise while those down lower simply have to make do. If you haven’t seen this one, please do. You’ll be glad you did. And please, remember to vote.