Three friends find themselves lost on Skid Row and are captured by an angry homeless gang.
Parasites is a brand new exploitation film making its Los Angeles premiere at the 2016 Shriekfest Horror/Sci-Fi Film Festival.
Let’s put all of our chips out on the table, leaving nothing up our sleeves, holding back no feelings. We got it? Are we good?
I’ll probably lose my movie fan card here, but based on what I know of Walter Hill’s The Warriors and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (I’ve seen neither of these films – have only limited knowledge), I think these are the movies which Parasites so desperately wants to be.
I can say with great conviction however, that John Carpenter’s 1981 classic Escape from New York is clearly a major influence on this film shot on location in the tent-towns of Los Angeles.
But a John Carpenter film – Parasites is most definitely not.
Three college newbies; Marshall (Sean Samuels) and his two douche buddies – are on a night out pre- or post-game (not quite certain which) from USC. They get lost in the “bad part” of downtown Los Angeles with (of course) limited cell reception. Underneath an overpass, a random booby trap flattens one of their tires, and quickly thereafter, a gang of homeless folks, led by Wilco (busy character actor Robert Miano) assault and eventually kill Marshall’s friends; leaving Marshall to fend for himself. And then the chase through the alleys and streets – encountering many obstacles and oddities – begins.
Before I unleash my barrage of complaints, I will say this – there are a few things worthwhile here.
The performance from Miano is note-worthy, if one-note, but the blame falls upon writer/director Chad Ferrin (mostly in his position as writer). It felt as though much of the dialogue was improved (meaning there may well have only been some skeleton of a script), and Miano delivers it all with a great deal of gusto. He’s a good villain, but once he goes bat-shit on everyone in sight, it takes the extra step to become over-the-top. He does a good job with what little character he is provided.
There are also two rather brief appearances from Joe Pilato (of George A. Romero’s classic Day of the Dead) as Wilde, another homeless man – but not part of Wilco’s gang. He’s a highlight in a film with so few good performances, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get more screen-time. For you Day of the Dead fans, he says the “eff word” an awful lot, and even says “piss-f***”, making you remember his similarly-delivered “puss-f***” from Romero’s film – when referencing the zombies. In a film of little substance, it’s nice to have a reprieve with a familiar and beloved face.
As our lead, Sean Samuels bears it all (literally – he has a 5-minute scene of running – totally naked). And while he’s a fit young man, his acting skills left a lot to be desired. But again – how many of those perceived shortcomings can be laid at the feet of the filmmakers? The character has no history, no journey and we have no sympathy for his plight. We just don’t know him, so why should we care? And it feels as though Samuels is left holding the check.
The thing I was most impressed with in Parasites, was the lighting. Ferrin and his crew really took advantage of the street lights and other “natural” lighting available in their locations. There’s definitely a gritty and dangerous feeling in the look of the film. It’s this atmosphere which most delights. The film looks good. My favorite scene – showcasing the beautiful lighting – was during the first few moments in the LA River as Marshall is stripped down and the headlights from his truck illuminate a nearby tunnel. An effective and masterful long shot with great lighting.
I’ve said this so many times before, I’ve lost count… but Parasites is another shining example of a project which could have and should have been a short. There is so much filler here (the never-ending music montages and endless scenes of Marshall running and running and running…) that the film becomes boring and repetitive very quickly. Couldn’t this have been contained in a 20-minute short and all of the good things ramped up to possibly create an exceptional and thrilling short?
The music was decently done by Matthew Olivo, if it hadn’t already been done by Carpenter on his Escape from New York score. Heavy synthesizer abounds, and more than once, in the constant shots of Marshall running – I half expected to see Adrienne Barbeau and Harry Dean Stanton not far behind – barely missing a run-in with Isaac Hayes. There are homages and then there is the score to Parasites.
And I simply must bring up the ending. I won’t spoil it (the film’s taglines are “No Lives Matter” and “Inspired by True Events”), but you’ll see it coming, and the absolute schmaltz and lack of power in the statement being made – frankly, it’s embarrassing. Once you see it, you’ll understand my complaint. The film brings up this very serious and timely issue, so I commend the filmmakers for it, but it’s just not pulled off in a manner that kept me from rolling my eyes. Had we invested more in Marshall’s background, perhaps it would have proven more effective and emotional. Its obviousness just hits you like a ton of bricks – and not in a good way.
There’s very little to recommend here. Other than a couple of good turns in the acting department and the aforementioned effective and realistic lighting, I’m unable to offer more than a 1-star rating.
I’m sorry. I need story and three-dimensional characters. I need more than montages. I need more than running. Speaking of which, this kid is supposed to be a quarterback – and yet, he’s unable to outrun a much older and slightly overweight homeless dude. No.
Keep your eyes peeled for Parasites – that is, if you choose to disregard my warnings. At press, no wider release information is available, but it does have many additional festival screenings on the calendar.