This month, three more cult classics of cinema are joining the Vestron Collector’s Series. In the second of a trio of reviews, I look at the 1989 movie Parents.
All is not what it seems in the Laemles household. Dad (Randy Quaid) goes off to work each day in a nondescript laboratory that seems to deal with corpses, while Mom (Mary Beth Hurt) spends most of her screen-time cutting and seasoning anonymous meat. Ten-year-old Michael (Bryan Madorsky) quickly suspects something is up, and sets about figuring out why every meal is leftovers and, most important, what they’re leftovers from.
Even now, I’m not sure what Parents is. On the surface, it’s about a neglected little boy whose parents are more interested in procuring and eating [what is implied to be] human flesh than they are spending time with their son. So, is it a cannibalism story? There isn’t really any horror, apart from a single dream sequence in which a hand is writhing about in the sink (a scene which is so unexpected and so absolutely brilliant I really do wish I hadn’t just ruined it for you). But there’s no end of tension. So, is it a thriller? The answer is – yes. And no. Plus, it’s a black comedy. I hope that’s cleared it up for you.
You see, I think we’re seeing everything through Michael’s eyes, and I don’t think he’s a reliable narrator. Consequently, much of what happens is seen through a lens of parental neglect. Is Michael interpreting things to seem worse than they really are? Is this just a distorted view of reality presented by a child who is trying to make sense of the adult world? Is it, therefore, a coming of age story? You could watch this film several times, each time drawing a different conclusion, each time being right.
The beauty of Parents is that it ultimately never makes it clear what it actually is, although the ending probably puts it into the horror stable if only because 90% of horror films pre-noughties tend to rely on “that kind of ending” (don’t want to spoil it for you too much!). But really, Parents is whatever you want it to be. Tense family drama, horror, thriller…it does a perfect job of keeping everything just ambiguous enough to be all of those things. At the time of writing, its aggregate score at Rotten Tomatoes is 50%, suggesting opinion really is divided.
Among the special features on the Blu-ray, there’s a great interview with screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne and director of photography Robin Vidgeon. There is also an audio interview with composer Jonathan Elias which precedes an isolated score version of the movie.