The Movie Waffler New to Amazon Prime Video - PARENTS | The Movie Waffler

New to Amazon Prime Video - PARENTS

parents review
A young boy suspects his parents of cannibalism.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bob Balaban

Starring: Bryan Madorsky, Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis, Juno Mills-Cockell

parents 1989 movie blu-ray

Drawing on David Lynch's Blue Velvet and 1950s paranoia sci-fi thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and (especially) Invaders from Mars, Bob Balaban's black comedy horror Parents peers into the basements of '50s suburban America, and more specifically, into the giant freezer units found within.

parents review

In his one and only screen role, Bryan Madorsky is 10-year-old Michael Laemle, a shy, gangly kid who has just moved to a new suburb with his parents, Nick (Randy Quaid) and Lily (Mary Beth Hurt). Bryan enrols in a new school and is taken under the wing of precocious pupil Sheila (Juno Mills-Cockell), as odd in her own extroverted ways as Bryan is in his introverted self. Nick takes a job at Toxico, a chemical plant developing the sort of weapons that will decimate South East Asia in the following decade. And of course, Lily stays home and maintains the family's new home, which resembles the set of I Love Lucy, if that sitcom had been sponsored by IKEA.

Like any sensible kid, Bryan has a healthy mistrust of his parents, who fill his dinner plate every evening with racks of succulent mystery meat. Bryan shuns the food, wary of how his mother vaguely calls it "leftovers" whenever he enquires as to its origin. One night Bryan leaves his bed and is horrified to discover his parents engaged in what appears to be some sort of sex act, their bodies smeared with blood. Bryan begins to suspect the meat his parents attempt to ply him with may be of human origin.

parents review

received poor reviews on its 1989 release but has developed a cult following since. Had it been released a couple of years later it may have fared better, given its aesthetic and thematic similarities to Twin Peaks, the show that had cult movie fans tuning into prime time network TV every week to watch David Lynch and Mark Frost dig up the turf on the lawns of suburban America in similar fashion. Bryan's dream sequences and the use of staggered slow motion feel like they've been lifted directly from Lynch and Frost's show, though of course both went into production concurrently. Balaban even hires Lynch's regular composer Angelo Badalamenti to score his film's more nightmarish moments, and at points you might find yourself wondering when an owl is going to fly across the screen.

Visually, Parents is a striking debut for an actor turned director. Balaban and cinematographers Ernest Day and Robin Vidgeon pull off some camera tricks that are especially impressive for a movie from the pre-CG age. At one point the camera pulls back through the Laemle's basement and continues retreating backwards through an air vent in a sort of reversal of the famous final shot of Antonioni's The Passenger. A dinner table interrogation of Bryan by his parents sees Balaban mount the table on a carousel, the room slowly spinning in the background making the scene all the more unsettling. The garish production and costume design adds to the general feeling of sugar rush nausea.

parents review

While Parents didn't deserve its original critical shunning, I'm not sure it's entirely worthy of its subsequent cult status. Christopher Hawthorne's script never quite mines the scenario for its true satirical potential, and it takes too long for the film to put Bryan in any real peril. The cast is excellent all round, from Quaid's boorish portrayal of a conservative father who feels he has nothing in common with his weird son, to Sandy Dennis's quirky school psychologist (though her post-hippy character feels very at odds with the '50s setting). It's young English actress Mills-Cockell who steals the show however, and the scenes between the insular Bryan and the oddball Sheila provide Balaban's film with its most charming moments. But you get the impression the cast is working overtime to make up for a rather bland script, which ultimately climaxes in a sub-standard post-Shining stalking sequence before resolving with a final gag that suggests the slight story may have worked best as an episode of a horror anthology show.

Parents is on Amazon Prime Video UK now.