Puffin’s review published on Letterboxd:
Really good premises worry me a little bit. When someone tells me that I need to go into a film blind, more often than not, it's because the brilliance of the film lies in the premise most of all. Surely that's not a bad thing on principle, but then we as viewers can conflate stellar premises and stellar films. If I needed a good series-of-events to describe to friends and develop hives around on Twitter, I'd read more literature. And I should, I'm an English major. But I don't. Film is a lot more than the premise, which is why descriptions of cleverness in a story sets me off. If all you worry about in film discussion is not spoiling the film, in my dumb bird opinion, the film might not be worth spoiling. Cool, you have a good idea for a film. Write a fuckin novel. Or compose a conceptual art rock record with spoken-word interludes. If I cared about premise, I'd be one of those guys asking 'what's the point?' to anything further left-field than Fight Club. A bad premise probably won't ruin your film. A good premise absolutely can.
Parasite does have some missteps in that regard. And I say missteps, as opposed to steps not at all taken, largely because Parasite is capital-A ambitious (except I lowercased it when typing the word, because such emphasis would require me to think over my reviews for more than a moment, let alone edit them.) A four star film can be the a three or three-and-a-half star film that worked its way up on what it has, or it can be a five or four-and-a-half star film that can't quite go the full distance. In that sense, four stars for Parasite might be considered strict, and four stars for Wonder Woman might seem lenient. That's the trick with star ratings, but unlike some of my peers, I could never disavow them entirely. It's my final statement, in case my actual writing isn't clear enough, leaning in one direction or the other. The stars are the final say, for now at least.
On to the main point, that being Parasite having been built more for the premise than anything else. I have seen this many times in good or great movies (Baby Driver is a prime example, and I still like that movie a lot), but more often than not, in good or bad movies, I think of it as a flaw. Parasite is really clear on film structure when it comes to pacing, even to the point of shortening or lengthening scenes to a degree I considered kind of unnatural or awkward. It all feels constructed to fit the story as a whole, rather than letting those individual scenes flourish in ways you otherwise wouldn't have allowed. I fear a longer runtime would have had Bong going too self-indulgent, but I also wonder if it would have allowed him to break convention and play around even more with tension, humor, sadness, and especially atmosphere. A film this strict on pace loses out on that, I feel, and I only really catch it in glimmers here.
That rigidity does come at a cost, despite not destroying the film and its merits entirely, in the same way other flaws have the potential to do. Again, I like a lot of films that stick solely to the plot and its expected pace, but the ones that achieve that desired effect from their attempts are the exceptions. I'd argue other directors that I was reminded of throughout Parasite knew better to diverge from a formula and still feel cohesive and interesting overall. Yorgos Lanthimos in his disturbances (though I would take Parasite over Dogtooth, personally), Edward Yang in his contemporary character explorations, Michelangelo Antonioni in finding an emptiness in the spaces of capitalism... Parasite has rightfully earned comparisons to these guys through its many merits, but I don't feel it goes above-and-beyond in that particular respect. And sticking to convention when going for a premise this out-of-the-box rebellious, it ultimately isn't as satisfying.
You might say it's harsh for me to throw out two of the four best directors of all time (and also Lanthimos, heh) in comparisons to a film that came out just this year. And to that, I say... Parasite is #1 on Letterboxd. That isn't a choice by Bong or his crew, so no points off for that of course, but clearly the standard has been considered by others already. Some have argued it deserves its position because it's better than The Godfather. I personally disagree on that front, but I also disagree that canon should just be a game of first place versus second place. Even if Parasite were a more appropriate pick for best film of all time (barring recency bias, which may or may not come into play eventually), would we be saying the same if Harakiri were then made second place? Or Seven Samurai? 12 Angry Men? Come and See? I would go further, but Into the Spiderverse is at #8, and that's... that's a whole different argument. If you are to take that top spot, you have to stand such comparisons, just as The Godfather did. I don't think Parasite will be as stoic to the argument with time. I don't know if anyone has been making that argument, and after all, it has been less than a year. But still, that incredible number of views, that 4.6 rating, would it hold up if we up and switched film rating websites in ten years time? Forrest Gump is #12 on the IMDb Top 250, and can't even crack the Top 250 on Letterboxd. Will time dull the hype of Parasite?
Maybe. But in saying that, I wouldn't want this film to go away. The Palme d'Or seems reasonable, I suppose. And looking back, comparing this film to Forrest Gump is kind of me waiting to get yelled at. It might have that same itch at the back of my brain, but one's a good film, and the other... is Forrest Gump. Sorry.
Parasite's a great film. It took me so long to say because of its baggage, as if great films need to be criticized before they can be further complimented, but I don't know, I don't want you guys feeling too echoed out on this film's greatness. I would say in my opinion, but it's a bit harder to find dissenting opinions to offset mine. Shoutout, uhh... Neil Bahadur. It's only healthy to be critical, so I wouldn't be writing so much if I just agreed with everybody else. That being said, I'd also be kind of dishonest if I didn't address what really works about Parasite.
A brutalizing idea, working its way up the staircase (sorry) of conflict, very gradually but never lulling too far in-between. I have my issues with that method, but if nothing else, it keeps a viewer hooked. Those early stages are incredible in their own right, and while the final steps may feel distant, there are clever ways in which they make connections.
I like this idea of battling over space through class; there's a lot of irony to even just the image, let alone what it offers. Again, I think Antonioni did it better, but it's also a different type of take. It doesn't negate Bong's comments unless you as a viewer already consider Bong's take to be deeply flawed. Some say that of Antonioni already. I think they both work on a surface-level, Antonioni going a bit deeper philosophically, but also keep in mind that I am indeed a dumb bird with no real world knowledge. If there is some awful irony to Parasite's comments on capitalism that ruins its points entirely, I am not smart enough to understand them. Maybe Jon M. can live rent-free in my mind when I speak of this film in the same way he does when I speak of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma. And I like Roma.
Most of all, I really love the performances. Balancing genres can be tricky not only for the director, but for the actors as well. That is why I'm so grateful that everybody here, especially the four leads, completely nail that middle-ground. When your delivery is halfway between farcical and terrified, without feeling ungenuine on either end, that's an accomplishment for any actor. I can't think of many other recent examples that do this as well as this whole cast does, and it allows the film's darker turns to not feel as ugly or as boring. That poster had me on edge, but luckily it never feels too cruel or depraved in a meaningless way. A lot of that comes down to those performances, half in some lost metaphor, half in their own sincere humanity. And knowing the context now, I think the poster's spectacular.
That is the deciding factor for me on Parasite's achievements meaning anything or not. It does extend a bit beyond its ultimate point, willing to add smaller details, willing to let the characters exist beyond just pieces to a game; it all might come together the same way, but having that breathing room makes all the difference in me being interesting in where the film is leading me. I might not like the functions of the film being as regimented as they are, but its odd sense of specificity and humanity amidst its criticism, it feels thoughtful in addition to being simply "clever." Parasite can be more than its final point, with that honed-in focus still allowing cool digressions in our periphery, other things to admire and to care about. It strikes harder when it convinces you to care by means other than its own brilliance. I like its sentimental side. I like its humorous side. I like its very briefly terrifying side, which might just be that one scene of the kid eating cake, a shot that will never leave my puffin brain for as long as I live (which is thankfully not long. Puffin lifespans are very short.) I like Parasite so much because the premise alone isn't the start and end to every conversation I will have about it. There is more to film than its most evident purpose. Parasite is a cool idea. Thankfully, it is a good film too.