Parasites (2016)

Here’s one that I just watched. Another movie like Observance that I was intrigued by when I had heard of it, but ultimately felt like the premise wasn’t executed very well. Much like Observance, this movie takes place in an urban setting and feels like it could have utilized the setting to a more interesting effect, but perhaps partly due to the low budget and partly due to a weak script, it ended up not being what I was hoping for. Unlike Observance, I didn’t think this one was redeemed very much by the filmmaking.

The premise is basically that some college students at USC get lost driving around downtown LA, their car gets a flat tire, and they’re jumped by a gang of homeless people. From there the story is about three college students who are very out of their element surviving the night in the streets of Skid Row. To me there are two directions you can take a premise like this, the dumb way or the smart way: Either you lean fully into the exploitative movie type premise and have the homeless antagonists be completely unrealistic monsters – zombies for all intents and purposes – or you could have more dramatic elements in the story where it becomes a symbolic descent from civilization into an urban jungle where the antagonists and the protagonists all have their own story arcs in which the issues of class and homelessness are explored. While watching the movie, I kept seeing in my head all the different movies this could have been more similar to. It could have been more like C.H.U.D, or maybe like Escape From New York, either a monster/zombie movie with homeless drug addict lunatics or a story of surviving and escaping from a destitute part of the world where society dumps its dregs. Instead, it ended up being a whole lot of nothing.

For one thing, two of the main characters are killed off immediately, which is a huge detriment to the movie. This movie needed a group of characters to play off each other so the audience can learn more about them and so the plot can have some character drama tension, as all good zombie movies do. Unlike Escape From New York where the audience knows from the start that Snake Plissken is a bad ass who doesn’t give a fuck about anything and is just in the plot to do a job and get out, the characters from the start of the movie are basically blank slates. All we know is that they’re middle class college kids who are way out of their element, and we get a bit of classism from the start, particularly from one of the characters who dies. The movie makes some attempts with this character and some lines of dialogue from the leader of the group of homeless people to explore classism, but it never fully commits to having that character drama of the shitty middle class college students who look down on the homeless and the gang of homeless people who are tired of being spit on by the rest of society and want to claim some power for themselves.

Instead, two of the characters die and we’re left with the lone survivor who never really has any kind of character established, and likewise the group of homeless people doesn’t have much characterization going on. The leader of the group is sometimes humanized a bit, having some lines of dialogue expressing what he feels to be getting justice for himself and the other homeless he runs with, but for most of the movie is written as a deranged tyrant who just orders everyone around. But the movie doesn’t commit far enough into that either. For the movie to go that route, the homeless antagonists would need to have been portrayed as just the absolute worst scum imaginable, drug addicts in a meth frenzy or something like that. There’s another movie that does this really well called Street Trash, and it’s fucking great. Another thing Street Trash does well but that Parasites didn’t go far enough with was the gore. As it stands the movie had too little characterization, too much uneven characterization when it did have it, and didn’t go far enough into being completely silly and exploitative.

Another major problem I have with the movie is the setting. Skid Row is probably one of the more famous places for extremely destitute areas with lots of homeless people, but it’s also relatively small (about three square miles) and is right in the middle of a major city. For this movie’s overall plot of people trying to survive the night in a really run down part of a city where there’s no law or civilization, it needed to either take place in an extremely decayed urban environment or an extremely dense one. This makes Los Angeles a pretty bad setting for that. Two perfect places this could have been set in would be either New York City in the 1970s during its most run down crime-ridden period, or in modern day Detroit. New York City in the 70s would have worked well for the very dense urban setting because it both would have been filled with criminals and homeless people but also would be full of New Yorkers who aren’t going to give a fuck about some random college kid running around claiming he’s being chased by murderous homeless people. Modern day Detroit would also work because if you don’t know, there are huge swathes of the city that are just completely or mostly abandoned, to the point that nature has started to reclaim it in certain parts. I can see in my head a movie like this that takes place in either where it could really explore the theme of survival in an ’urban jungle’, culminating in some kind of hand to hand fight to the death between the main character and the main antagonist. The movie does in fact have a scene like that, where the protagonist has been stripped naked and has to use a piece of rebar as a spear to kill a dog chasing him and then the homeless guy following behind. It’s a great piece of symbolism but it’s used too early to pay off themes that were already being established.

All in all the movie comes off like the director had an idea but didn’t know how to fill out the movie, so it ends up being a lot of running around through empty streets in LA at night. The homeless people, despite being only numbering about eight, somehow always manage to find him, and somehow it’s always only one of them that he actually has to fight. It becomes extremely repetitive. I will give it credit for doing the Night of the Living Dead endind where the protagonist, who is a black USC quarterback, gets shot by cops during a final confrontation with the leader of the homeless gang. That at least felt like the movie had some kind of idea for a thematic arc, but it was pretty much too little too late by that point for it to win too many points.

Probably wouldn’t recommend this one. It felt like a lot of wasted time and potential.

Created: 2022-10-15 Sat 23:58