Parasite (2003), Dir. Andrew Prendergast

Fearnort Production

Starring: Saskia Gould, Conrad Whitaker, G.W. Stevens, Margaret Thompson

Reviewed by Djibril

This low-budget horror from director Prendergast (of straight-to-video Evil Elvis, 1999), has a largely 'b'-list cast, fairly basic production standards, and a premise which seems likely to be an excuse for gore-fest rather than a serious comment on science or society. These are all attitudes which I held before seeing the film, and to be honest they were largely unchanged by the end of it, but what drew me to the film in the first place was one element of the plot-synopsis. An experimental new enzyme is being used to clean up a decomissioned oil rig by an American scientist (Gould) and a rather anarchic demolition crew (led by a wild-eyed Stevens), when a team of "environmentalists" (led by Whitaker) occupy the rig in protest at the ecological disaster that would result if it were simply sunk into the sea. When it emerges that the experimental cleaner has spawned a predatory new species of gigantic bacteriophages, the human inhabitants of the rig have to band together to face this common threat. It would be refreshing, thought the reviewer on reading this (approximate) synopsis, if we might see an action film with environmental campaigners positively portrayed, rather than sneered at—as cinema audiences were supposed to take pleasure in Bruce Willis's maltreatment of Greenpeace campaigners off an oilrig in Armageddon, for example.

So what were the characters like? Gould the scientist is a stylish but tormented by conscience, knowing her enzyme is not ready for testing; delivered to the oilrig by helicopter, she appears in a business suit but soon changes into more practical (but ill-fitting) clothes. Stevens is swaggering and brutal, but haunted by the death of his wife in a demolition accident; he is the responsible leader of the demolition crew, but cracks under the strain and is no use to anyone. Whitaker is handsomely and smugly confident, but with a seriousness that I suppose is meant to be cinematic code for "idealistic". It is hard to feel much sympathy for any of these, or even to keep count as they start dying in droves. The "environmentalists" are not particularly rounded characters, and their motivation for this particular occupation is not deeply examined; their particular brand of direct action (hoax bomb threats, for example) is not one that most action groups would approve—not to mention a serious security issue in this day and age. But they are neither thuggish villains nor naïve idealists who do more harm than good with their clumsy intervention, or the like. Rather they are as close to positive characters as this film is able to come, and about the only people who do less harm than good in the whole story. (The story ends with an almost embarrassingly triumphalist view of the last surviving environmentalists getting even with the villainous bureaucrat, then stripping off their balaclava masks to stare "sincerely" into the video camera as they speak their final words. Even this committed fan of eco-SF had trouble suppressing a giggle.)

So, although I was not entirely disappointed in my hopes for atypical representations of greens, nor was I pleasantly surprised by the quality of the film. The concept was weak: the monsters absurd, toothy, maggot-like creatures, completely implausible as the mutant offspring of microscopic "bacteriophages" (it would be invidious to complain about the cheap special effects, which were the least of this film's problems). The script was diabolical—full of cheesy one-liners and unconvincing repartée, not helped at all by lacklustre delivery that frankly is equally damning of the actors' abilities and the director's. Post-production seems to have been no better. This was not an ambitious project, but still a flawed script and incompetent direction held it back far more than the modest budget. Most troublingly, it is unclear how much the social awareness suggested by the plot reflects any desire to produce responsible art—this film is exploitative in the most typical way: Thompson's sassy, hard-as-nails "grease-monkey" appears topless in a pretty pointless communal shower scene early on, and then strangely loses her clothes again as she is later violently dismembered by a parasite, both scenes that were neither necessary nor titillating.

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