Inventive, tonally brilliant and visually challenging this cult classic manages to raise hackles, shine a light into the darkness and embrace childhood fears with originality.
There is something unsettling about this film. From the opening frame, highly stylised lighting, low level camera angles and deep focus photography give everything an off kilter feel. Masterful performances crackle around the edges of this absurdity, while director Bob Balaban injects dashes of Kubrick’s Shining, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Robin Hardy’s Wicker Man into a heady mix. Broodingly dark, cloyingly claustrophobic and creepily precise in its depiction of Fifties Americana, Parents plays on childhood fear whilst keeping everything low key.
Stepford wife perfection oozes from every frame while suburban neighbourhoods laid out in chocolate box symmetry distract us from the lack of humanity. Close up camera work fixates on food preparation, consumption and addiction, manifested no louder than through both lead performances. Randy Quaid is seedy, stern and roguishly charismatic opposite a buttoned down and sexually caged Beth Hurt. There is something feral behind the eyes of both as they attempt to get their son to eat dinner. Like pack animals trying persuading a young cub it is strangely domesticated yet uncomfortable viewing.
In comparison the young son played by Bryan Madorsky is detached, cautious and forever watchful, as his parents slowly reveal their abnormality. It is this which Balaban skilfully explores by depicting his role models as untrustworthy, savagely superficial and blithely unaware of their descent into darkness. Blood soaked sheets, nightmare visions and severed forearms in the waste disposal also indulge B-movie origins without devolving into caricature.
Playing on our fear of the unknown, Parents feeds into the political preoccupation with period specific communism by using cannibalism as a direct allegory. Which is why both Quaid and Hurt seem robotically inhuman yet inhabited within by something else. Balaban never gets embroiled in the differences between card carrying communists or fellow travellers and avoids taking sides by filtering events through a singular perspective. Inventive, tonally brilliant and visually challenging this cult classic still manages to raise hackles, shine a light into the darkness and embrace childhood fears with originality.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Bob Balaban
Written by: Christopher Hawthorne
Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis
Parents was released on special edition dual format DVD/Blu-ray on February 25, 2019 as part of the Vestron Collectior’s Series from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.