Returning to home turf after a run of international features, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho launches a sustained attack on the lifestyles of the rich and shameless with his latest Cannes competition contender, Parasite.
Whatever the horror-movie connotations of that double-edged title, the morally flawed monsters in Parasite are entirely human. Bong calls the film "a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains."
With its focus on an impoverished family who concoct a wily scheme to boost their bleak prospects, Parasite arrives a little too soon after Hirokazu Kora-Eda's thematically similar Japanese drama Shoplifters, which won the Palme d'Or in Cannes a year ago.
At times the plot teasingly recalls Joseph Losey's The Servant and Pier Paolo Pasoloni' s Theorem, poison-tipped parables about cunning social outcasts staging stealth home invasions against upper-class hosts.
Like much of Bong' s work, Parasite is cumbersomely plotted and heavy-handed in its social commentary. The largely naturalistic treatment here may also alienate some of his fantasy fanboy constituency.
That said, this prickly contemporary drama still feels more coherent and tonally assured than Snowpiercer or Okja, and packs a timely punch that will resonate in our financially tough, politically polarized times.
In an unusually personal plea, Bong has requested Cannes reviewers not to reveal plot spoilers about the second act of Parasite.
Bong then makes the film' s class-war subtext concrete with a bloody struggle for survival that leaves no one holding the moral high ground.
Initially a little slow to set up its dynamic tension, Parasite peaks during its lively mid-section as a fast-paced, black-hearted, Coens-esque farce before climaxing with a chaotic orgy of vengeful violence.