Film Review: Parasites (2016)

The love letter to Los Angeles that is La La Land is taking the world by storm and is a favorite for an Oscar nod. It’s dreamy, unreal and positive. It’s full of life and love and singing. The city of Los Angeles has played itself in cinema since the beginning. Like most cities, it’s many different things to the people who know it. Chad Ferrin’s Parasites, which is available today for digital HD download, takes a decidedly darker view of L.A. One that begins with an almost comical view of violence and ends up making a powerful commentary on class, power, society and institutionalized racism. The film meanders and stumbles a bit along the way, but stick with it. This is a truly bleak film, and an important one as well.

Three USC students find themselves lost near downtown L.A. late at night. They’re clearly privileged kids and nothing in their conversation endears us to them. A football game broadcasts over the car stereo, while they comment that Skid Row is like the great wall of tents, and all of the homeless people make it look like a zombie apocalypse. Of course, right when their cell phone gets no reception and they are blocks from anything, the car gets a flat tire. One of them jumps out to find a board with nails attached laying in the road. Thankfully no one makes a Judgement Night reference, but I certainly will. Just then, a gang of transients shows up, looking like the original cast from Assault on Precinct 13 reprising the same roles for the re-make. What I’m saying is they’re old. With the exception of a couple of them, the group’s average age is probably 65. This gang isn’t here to help. They proceed brutally beating the crap out of these kids. Two don’t make it and one gets away. The rest of the film is this guy, who’s an USC quarterback, running from the gang.

Parasites draws its inspiration from real life explorer and mountain man John Colter. He travelled with Lewis and Clark and was allegedly pursued by natives from the Blackfoot tribe. It’s also worth mentioning another film that was inspired by Colter is the 1965 Cornel Wilde film The Naked Prey. That, as well as Parasites takes advantage of long scenes with no dialogue coupled with constant movement by the main character (which incidentally in Parasites is named Marshal Colter).

The characters and acting are where Parasites stumbles a bit. Going back to the Assault on Precinct 13 reference I made before, this film is – in more ways than one – cut from the same cloth. The score and cinematography are very much an homage to John Carpenter. That is indeed a good thing. But those characters, including the individual members of the gang, as well as the other people Colter comes across, all have the look and say their lines like they were transported from an early Carpenter film and put in to this one. This very well may have been the intent, but it takes some powerful moments and gives them almost an unnecessary level of camp. Surprisingly, veteran actor Joe Pilato (Rhodes from Romero’s classic Day of the Dead) loses all traces of camp or irony and delivers a brief, but brilliant and moving performance as a (get this) good guy. Sean Samuels as Colter plays it straight as well and gives a physical performance not unlike Leo in The Revenant. Okay, maybe that’s overstating a bit, but Samuels does quite a bit with this ordeal against the city movie.

In the film’s second half, it starts to make its social commentary. It does this through the eyes of the main character. As he is running, we see what he sees, and it’s some pretty dark shit. Like the reality of what has been known to happen when someone has no way of paying hospital bills. We also witness Colter repeatedly mistaken for a bum as he tries to find help.

Parasites has been a festival favorite and I can’t quite imagine what those screenings were like. Seeing this at home on a computer left me in a somber mood. Its bleakness builds to a surprising level. I’d love to know if those crowds cheer on the action, possibly lessening the emotional impact, or if everyone leaves the theatre stunned and in silence. I just finished watching, about 30 minutes ago, right before I started writing this review. That is something I almost never do. I almost always need more time to figure out how I feel. I think Parasites is a film you should see and think about. I know I’ll be thinking about it for the next few days.

Parasites is available now from 108 Media. You can download it in Digital HD on iTunes and other platforms.