– By Sooz Webb
‘The mean streets’ takes on a whole new meaning, as 3 college bros find themselves at the mercy of the homeless, after exclaiming “Dude! That’s my car!” in urban social thriller Parasites.
A flat tire soon becomes the least of their problems, when Marshal and his two buddies discover the cause of the puncture: a wooden board with nails hammered in it. Ensnared in a trap laid by those that inhabit the streets, they soon learn that running your mouth when you’re on someone else’s turf is a surefire way to end up on the missing list. Stripped of his clothes, and his dignity, Marshal finds himself the sole survivor of their ordeal, and puts his star quarterback skills to the test. The ultimate touchdown: to make his way back home.
Written and directed by Chad Ferrin, Parasites serves as both a survivalist thriller and modern social commentary. The horror comes from knowing we are only ever two pay packets from potentially being caught in a similar situation. A cat and mouse game turned homicidal, the film forces us to look into the shadows we’d usually choose to ignore. From a position of vulnerability, we witness the lengths Marshal would go to maintain the small grasp he has on controlling his fate. This includes killing the first of his attackers. Relieving the tramp of his clothes, Marshal’s transformation from bro to bum is complete. Looking, and smelling, the part, everyone he encounters from thereon out treats him thus, further stacking the odds against him.
And this judgement of others is highlighted throughout the film. Well, less highlighted, more shoved into your eyes and ears. From the racial slurs, to the sexual and ethnic stereotypes, every pigeonholed minority is represented. It becomes less of an effective tool in modern socio-political storytelling and more of a laboriously laboured point. A shame, as it slows the pace of the film, as more characters are introduced to fill their quota. In turn, we’re given brief respite, to disengage with the relentless sense of urgency. The ending, while heartbreaking, is a little predictable. Although, I can’t help but wonder if that stems from how closely it resembles headlines in the news these days…
Cinematography and lighting are utilized to emphasize the terror of Marshal’s journey. The harsh light of street lamps, used either by inspired genius or budgetary constraints, cast an eerie uncertainty on his harrowing plight. With wobbly hand held camera work grounding the situation, it seems like something we are witnessing, but are helpless to intervene. Combined with Sean Samuels’ emotive performance, you feel a real sense of hopelessness for an unfortunate man trapped in a dire situation. Freedom continuously, cruelly snatched from his grasp. At the helm of his torment, a man who brings new definition to the term ‘crazy eyes’. Robert Milano as Wilco, the tyrannical leader of his browbeaten crew, becomes increasingly barbaric as the film progresses. His intense, questionable and eventually abhorrent motivations are distressing and disgusting. He carries the portrayal with megalomaniacal aplomb, stealing every scene, like a malevolent Bill Sykes.
Emphasising the wretchedness of the situation is a soundtrack of some of the most mournful cover versions known to man. If the images aren’t tortuous enough to punch you in the heart, then the score will certainly seal the deal. Incorporated with jarring Carpenter-esque symphonics, which set nerves on edge, and draw us into the immediacy of the situation. We’re left as shattered as Marshal, emotionally running the gauntlet of his agonising plight.
A heart-racing, adrenaline pumper that kicks you right in the feels, Parasites is a contemporary telling of age-old tale. Haunting, exhausting and a harsh reminder that horror doesn’t always stem from the supernatural, it’s a sobering exploration into the lengths an individual, or a society, would go to guarantee survival.