While envisioning Parasites, writer/director Chad Ferrin had to be mainlining heavy doses of Assault On Precinct 13 and Escape From New York. Socio-political extremism, synthy musical composition, aggressive violence – Parasites runs straight out of the 70s and onto our digital screens. Ferrin extrapolates an ever-growing homelessness rate and turns it into an urban question of purification, complete with political commentary that boasts seething prejudice. America’s scummiest, most neglected stones are overturned with satirical pause – but only on a shoestring-budget that struggles to drive home Ferrin’s fiery, enraged survival story.
We open on an average night for three USC students, who are hopelessly lost thanks to Scott’s (Sebastian Fernandez) shortcut. Stud quarterback Marshal Colter (Sean Samuels) finds himself driving down bum-lined streets while buddy Josef Lode (Jeffrey Decker) harasses their failed navigator from the backseat. Who needs a GPS anyway, right? Too bad their wasted night is about to get a whole lot worse when Marshal hears a “POP” and finds his tire spiked by a nail-covered plank.
While Marshal argues with Scott, a gang of transients emerge from the shadows, and they’re not the friendly type. Before long, the boys find themselves taken prisoner by an underworld leader who goes by Wilco (Robert Miano), and only Marshal is able to escape. With Wilco’s crew hot on his tail, Marshal has to navigate a world typically unseen if he’s to survive until sunrise…and that’s a big if.
What Parasites gets right is a hazy throwback vibe that leaves the faintest synth-pop stank lingering long after the credits roll. There’s nothing complicated here – three friends get lost, encounter a maniacal homeless man with an army of cronies, Marshal flees, and it’s a continual chase until sun-up. Lawlessness provides an almost dystopian feel to LA’s dimly-lit, dangerous back alleys (we can assume it’s LA based on visuals), while Marshal encounters trouble no matter where he turns. There’s no salvation. Drugs, death and unrest push forward a long-distance runner’s dream (or nightmare) survival scenario, all in the name of America’s inability to provide for every hard-luck citizen.
Performances are more a 50/50 mixed-bag, where both Sean Samuels and Robert Miano (in a very Rutger Hauer physicality) square off against one-another fiercely, but their supporting cast appears only as expendable extras. Characters are descriptively named after their selected weapon-of-choice (Wrench, Chain, Rake), yet most of their personalities are equally as emotive. Ferrin trusts in his cast, but holds a bit too long on acting that simply don’t measure up to what the bigger parts are laying down. Samuels goes all fleet-of-foot, and fights back with enough intensity when the crazed, rambling Wilco catches up and spits another goofy-yet-chilling anecdotal zinger – a rivalry that simply isn’t replicated elsewhere. Especially when henchmen essentially just swing their weapon and screech really loudly…
With so much running, Parasite also suffers from a droll case of repetition. When we first gaze upon Marshal’s naked rump running from Wilco’s pursuing party, atmosphere paints a dangerous nightscape kissed by Matthew Olivo’s thumping bass soundtrack. Callbacks to Carpenter wash over gooey violence, and we’re drenched in scuzzy dread – but that’s the first time. By the eighth or ninth mirroring sequence (except these times Marshal is clothed), cyclical formalities overshadow Ferrin’s paranoid themes. This isn’t an on-foot recreation of Mad Max: Fury Road – Ferrin embraces his influences and conjures a grimy B-Move vibe, but such impressionism lacks staying power as nostalgic warmness eventually fades.
Parasites is a bum-fighting, bare-bones thriller that skates by on directorial fanboying for as long as it can, but as the homages slowly transform into a recurring series of expected events, novelty fades. A frantic commentary on the homeless population becomes nothing more than a stop-and-go chase where one-on-one fights pick off members of Wilco’s team. Simple, but to a fault after time fades. Ferrin’s cold-hearted ending attempts one-last searing bastardization of our governmental regime, yet nothing in the previous seventy-or-so minutes matches such weight – and Parasites comes crumbling down just as the Marshal’s day seems brightest.
Parasites is a Carpenter-esque thriller that starts on a seedy, brutal note, but can't sustain such atmosphere as cyclical filmmaking eventually takes over.