Oct 24, 2012

Parents (1989)
Director: Bob Balaban
Writers: Christopher Hawthorne
Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, and Bryan Madorsky

The Plot: Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky) is a very introverted young boy living in 1950s America. When his family moves to a new suburb in Massachusetts, he must adjust to his new school with all of the new kids. Michael, as one might expect, is not the very best at making friends, and before long his guidance counselors become fixated on the young boy and his apparent mental issues. Questions are raised about his home environment, but his parents seem like the perfect image of 1950s Americana. Michael’s dad is a biologist and his mother seems to be the perfect homemmaker, but Michael suspects they are much more than this. He seems to believe that his parents are cannibal murderers. As he snoops around the house and tries to investigate his family, he finds himself unable to come up with anything concrete… but he still holds his suspicions, and before long, the truth will be exposed.

The Review
Any kid from the eighties will tell you that there were probably two definite reasons for picking out any horror movie at the video store. A) If you had heard about the movie from someone else, or B) If the cover art was really neat. Cover art played a very integral part in the formative years of almost all young film geeks in the eighties or early nineties. Although I never got around to actually renting it, the cover for Parents always stood out to me. Featuring a Ozzie and Harriet style scenario with mother and father having a very ordinary evening at home, the cover shows a detached skull lying inside the refrigerator within the background. I never brought myself to rent the movie, but I always kept it in my mind for potential viewing. Unfortunately, the one video store that happened to have a copy, shut down. So, when I later discovered Italian and Japanese horror, my interests in mainstream horror took a back seat for several years. As a grown man, I find myself much more interested in searching out these gems from my past, and Parents became an immediate “must watch” once I saw that it was on Netflix Instant. While the movie may not be everything I assumed that it would be, I know that seeing this surreal horror title is much more fitting towards my cinematic tastes than it would have been at the age of eleven.

Directed by Bob Balaban, Parents is of course a very darkly humorous movie. Balaban might be memorable to readers as the often-comedic actor who starred in movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Christopher Guest films Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Who could forget him when he made his brief run on Seinfeld? As an actor he has left a indelible mark in the pantheon of cinema, but as a director he is a bit overlooked. I say this only because I have a very fond opinion of My Boyfriend’s Back and his work on both Tales From the Darkside and Amazing Stories. Balaban takes a slightly humorous idea, but gives it a very dark twist. The twist is so dark that it actually becomes black, and in actuality the comedy may be hard to see for some viewers. I say this, but I’m not always the most capable person when it comes to deciphering black comedy. However, Parents has enough oddball character moments and quick puns that it can probably be seen as a part of this small niche. Yet, the overall look and feel of the movie is much more bizarre and surreal than anything that dares resemble any form of “comedy” that I have ever seen.

The atmosphere of Parents can only be described as eerie. The movie features a soundscape that almost seems as if it were ripped from an early David Lynch film. A dense and industrial soundtrack provides background to the seemingly mundane visuals of a traditional American household. Awkward scene after desperately awkward scene, Parents doesn’t show characters who are socially retarded, but instead the movie shows us martians. I of course do not mean literal martians, but the characters that inhabit this movie seem as if they were imported from another planet and are trying their best to pretend to be human. Almost every character within the movie is a heightened and bizarre caricature of a “type,” or they are simply pretending to be something entirely different from what they are. The faces that people put forth within society turns out to be a central theme for the movie, and the way in which this dichotomy of attitudes appears to children is something that the movie tries to point out.

Throughout the movie, the big question is always whether or not the “parents” of the title are actually cannibalistic. It is implied throughout the duration of the movie, but during the majority of the film the audience is left guessing. The strange aura that surrounds the movie doesn’t dictate any substantial direction that the movie will ultimately go. There are no promises from the outset that this will even be a movie that features a linear narrative, much less provide an actual answer to the most compelling question asked throughout the majority of the movie. Although there is a seemingly direct answer to this question, Balaban’s film is shown to be directly reflected through the prism of a child’s eye. In this character’s mind, we see reflections of past events that are slightly embellished within his imagination, and this begins to throw further questions up in the air about whether or not anything in this film can truly be trusted. Whether or not that much thought was put into a movie about cannibal parents, I can not say, but I certainly found there to be more than enough to read into.

The Conclusion
I won’t count Parents in very high esteem. Although I am glad to finally see the movie, due to how much the cover art effected me as a kid, but it rarely hits home in any effective way. The strange surrealist atmosphere doesn’t provide anything that grabs me as a audience member and it becomes hard to feel any sort of connection with the movie. Still, despite that, the film does provide an entertaining watch. I give it a three out of five.

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