- Spoiler warning This feature gives away aspects of Parasite’s plot
The 2020 Oscars will go down in history, and not only because for the first time in its history the Academy awarded best picture to a foreign language film. Despite stiff competition from major Hollywood players like Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino, it was spiky, small-scale satire Parasite that ultimately lifted the trophy, a triumph of the little guy against the establishment. Which is appropriate, because that’s essentially what Parasite is about: a creative, cash-strapped family who burrow their way into a wealthy, complacent household, with startling consequences.
Bong Joon Ho’s film is witty, subversive and smart – but it’s not alone. Here are six films in a similar vein to track down if you loved Parasite, from broad class-war comedy to icy aristocratic dread, from a rediscovered South Korean masterpiece to an unsung classic of American exploitation.
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Director: Robert Hamer
Still the most spitefully funny film ever made about the English class system, this Ealing masterpiece follows Dennis Price’s humble draper’s assistant as he discovers that he is ninth in line to the Duchy of Chalfont, and sets out to murder all those who stand in his way. Best remembered for Alec Gunnness’s virtuosic display as all eight members of the D’Ascoyne family, Kind Hearts and Coronets is razor sharp and utterly unforgiving in its depiction of aristocratic conceit and bourgeois ambition, offering an hilariously brutal and bleak-hearted view of humanity.
The Housemaid (1960)
Director: Kim Ki-young
Bong Joon Ho has been open about the debt that Parasite owes to this sadistic 60s satire on the Korean middle class, in which a well-to-do piano teacher moves his family into a newly built home big enough to require a housekeeper, only for her machinations to literally tear the family apart. Steadily shifting through the gears from wry, sardonic family melodrama to full-on screaming grand guignol, Kim Ki-young’s film is visually sumptuous and brilliantly straight-faced: the climactic straight-to-camera speech about the perils of adultery is absolutely delicious. This is required viewing for Bong converts.
Plein Soleil (1960)
Director: René Clément
Patricia Highsmith’s chameleonic anti-hero Tom Ripley is the poster boy for class infiltration, worming his way into the confidences of the rich only to turn on them when they least expect it. Notable on-screen outings include Wim Wenders’s tragic The American Friend (1977) and Anthony Minghella’s glossy The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), but it’s this shimmering Francophone take that feels most of a piece with Parasite. Alain Delon is at his most blankly beautiful as the empty shell Ripley, tearing down the bourgeoisie almost without meaning to.
The Servant (1963)
Director: Joseph Losey
Adapted from a Robin Maugham novel by the great Harold Pinter and directed by Hollywood exile Joseph Losey with half an eye on the French New Wave, The Servant is a forensic dissection of the British class system at the dawn of the 60s, as every set-in-stone rule of the social order was beginning to crumble. Told through the eyes of two men – James Fox’s foppish gadabout Tony and Dirk Bogarde’s quietly sadistic manservant Barrett – The Servant, like Parasite, explores the shifting power balance between the idle rich and those they hire to provide for them.
The People under the Stairs (1991)
Director: Wes Craven
A brilliantly blunt slice of political exploitation, as a pair of vindictive slum landlords chain kids from poor neighbourhoods in their basement only to have them literally rise up and fight the power. Inspired by the true story of a pair of burglars who broke into an LA home and stumbled across two kidnapped children, Wes Craven’s film offers a scattergun tirade against capitalism and gentrification while also remaining a superb, relentless thriller. The stunt casting of the two villains – Wendy Robie and Everett McGill from the currently zeitgeist-y Twin Peaks – may date it slightly, but the sense of seething anger is as fresh as ever.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
For his second film in the English language, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos took inspiration from the ancient myths of his homeland, loosely weaving Euripides’s classical tragedy Iphegenia at Aulis, about a wartime leader who sacrifices his daughter to the gods in hope of their favour, into a caustic modern-day horror movie. Colin Farrell plays a successful New York surgeon who meets Barry Geoghan’s terrifying teenager in a diner, only for the boy’s bizarre whims to begin guiding his and his family’s fates. You’ll never eat spaghetti the same way again.
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