Fantasia Film Festival: PARASITES (2016)


Studio:       108 Media
Director:    Chad Ferrin
Writer:       Chad Ferrin
Producer:  Chad Ferrin, Robert Miano, Silvia Spross, John Santos
Stars:     Robert Miano, Sean Samuels, Sebastian Fernandez, Jeffrey Decker, Rich Lee, Silvia Spross, Tim Halpin, Robert Rhine, Burt Culver, Elli Rahn, Scott Vogel, Joe Pilato

Review Score:


Lost in downtown Los Angeles, a USC freshman runs for his life while pursued by a murderous horde of dangerous vagrants.


Fantasia Film Festival Review:

USC quarterback Marshal Colter has a greater worry on his mind this weekend than the cross-town rivalry with UCLA or the latest headline-grabbing locker room scandal.  He and two buddies took a wrong turn downtown and after a nail board flattens their truck’s tire, the three college freshmen are suddenly stranded and outnumbered by a frightening horde of bloodthirsty bums eager for any excuse to smash a bottle in their faces.

And these dangerous derelicts do exactly that and then some.  When this murderous mob’s evil antics escalate into a fatal frenzy of torment and torture, Marshal is forced to take off for the most important run he will ever make.  Crossing the goal line in this case determines whether Marshal saves his own life or dies in horrifically brutal fashion.

“Parasites” purports to be “inspired by true events,” but that true story has nothing to do with Los Angeles, killer vagrants, or a USC student turning savage in order to survive.  Actual inspiration dates back over 200 years to John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition who was stripped naked and forced on an infamous run while a band of Native Americans followed furiously behind.  Chad Ferrin’s script is an initially interesting take on Colter’s story, though the 21st-century transition doesn’t have the depth to stretch into an 80-minute feature.

Having had a fascination for Los Angeles even before living there for 19 years and counting, I’m always intrigued by any film that can immerse me in this setting or show an area of the city in an interesting or unusual light.  The problem inherent in having familiarity with L.A.’s layout is that a movie like “Parasites” takes its premise to such exaggerated extremes that suspension of disbelief is an impossible ask of an Angeleno.

When establishing shots later in the movie show the downtown skyline having moved miles away, one wonders, how much ground does Marshal cover while finding barely a half-dozen people in a city populated by millions?  Such an astounding feat takes either monumental effort or some seriously unfortunate luck.

In a nutshell, “Parasites” wants you to think that Los Angeles’ Skid Row is such an endless expanse of hobos, whores, thugs, and gangbangers that someone can run within its unlimited borders for over an hour without coming across anyone who isn’t a homicidal drifter or jackass teen troublemaker.  Maybe the film works better for those who mistakenly believe downtown L.A. is some sort of “kill or be killed” wasteland of “Escape from New York” proportions.  For anyone with a rudimentary understanding of urban geography, “Parasites” becomes an implausibly long slog of watching one man running, running, and running some more while weirdos in pursuit swing chains and scream annoyingly.

Among the cast, Robert Miano emerges as the sole standout playing homeless horde ringleader Wilco.  Miano has the authoritative menace to make Wilco believably deranged without going into full lunatic mode, yet the rest of his band of bums is interchangeably irrelevant.  The extent of everyone else’s characterization is having a name based on their weapons of choice, e.g. Spade, Chain, Wrench, and Hammer.

Joe Pilato from “Day of the Dead” appears briefly as a sidewalk-sleeping drunk.  Pilato is always welcome in my book, although anyone being candid about his style knows his performances are turned up to 11 whether the role requires it or not.  “Parasites” is a fitting example.

Vexed for ways to make multiple montages of Marshal jogging against concrete backdrops less monotonous, bizarre backyard blues music provided by moonlighting cast members oddly accompanies several such sequences.  The songs are conspicuous as is, yet they conflict even further when complementing composer Matt Olivo’s Carpenter-esque synth score.

The synthesized section of the soundtrack befits the retro tone of “Parasites.”  Whether popping prop guns and canned sound effects are intentionally included for style or a byproduct of a cheap checkbook, the film parallels some of the sleazy street feel that was the exploitation era’s claim to fame, and successfully strokes some of those seventies vibes through Village People costuming and gritty violence. 

Outside of this slim appeal as modern day grindhouse fare, “Parasites” has little substance.  There is no sympathetic subtext about the plight of the homeless or disrespecting the downtrodden.  In fact, the Skid Row denizens are painted as evil adversaries from the minute they deliberately set a spike strip to trap people who weren’t trying to trouble them in the first place.

Virtually every conceivable racial slur is commonplace dialogue for multiple characters.  Beyond Marshal’s rampant running, scenes include attempted rape of a hooker, gunplay with an abusive pimp, and a Down syndrome patient abandoned on the street to provide one last distasteful stab at dark humor after the end credits.  Pile all this purposeless political incorrectness onto a stretched-thin story with an unconvincing setup, and “Parasites” can be dismissed as more throwaway than throwback exploitation entertainment.

NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.

Review Score:  35