Directed by Bob Balaban
Available on Vestron Video Blu-Ray
Michael and his parents move to their new home from Massachusetts where Michael’s father has secured a new job. As Michael tries to fit in at his new school, his teacher gets the feeling that all may not be well with young Michael and refers him to the school’s social worker. Michael’s home life doesn’t appear as perfect as it’s set out to be either, with the youngster plagued by nightmares and an unsympathetic father who’s always a little too keen to reprimand his son. As time goes on, Michael starts to believe that the real horror doesn’t live in his nightmares, but in his actual home. Is this a case of the wild imagination of a young boy or is there really something going on with his parents?
Set in the 50’s, Bob Balaban’s darkly comic PARENTS flips the idea of the picture-perfect suburban household on its head as the true nature of the Laemle family is explored through the eyes of their 10 year old son. Michael, played by Bryan Madorsky, plays up to the troubled, lonely child stereotype as he spends his time spying on his mother through the larder’s vented door when she’s cooking, and spewing out worrying comments when introduces himself to his new classmates. A fussy eater, Michael never seems to enjoy a sit down meal with his parents, opting to avoid the meatloaf, ribs and other carnivorous offerings his mother has slaved over, preferring instead to be sent to bed. Spending most of his time alone, reading, it’s a relief when he makes a new friend, Sheila Zellner, who’s also new to his class. As the two share their strange stories (Sheila claims to be from the moon), their fathers work together at the Toxico plant where Michael’s father Nick appears to have created a chemical spray that could completely decimate a forest when dispersed during the monsoon season. To say that Nick is a strange beast would be putting it lightly. Whilst his wife Lily acts as the perfect housewife and mother, Nick (Randy Quaid) comes across as a nerdish yet stern father who doesn’t really spend much time with his son or show him much love, instead looking to fill his son’s mind full of strange and worrying tales. It’s no wonder Michael is having nightmares!
At the beginning of the movie, you get the feeling that Michael’s imagination is running away with him, or maybe that some inner evil is coming out, the type you’d imagine serial killers may have experienced as youngsters as a sign of things to come. Though Michael isn’t seen torturing any animals or the like, his description on how to become invisible by gnawing the bones of a cat isn’t quite the advice his school teacher was looking for when she said “tell us something new”. Lurking, spying and generally hiding around the house and wandering out of bed during the night only seems to fuel his wicked visions and daily creepy thoughts, but the more we see of Michael and life through his eyes, the more we begin to realise that his home life isn’t the perfect setup it initially made out to be and that there may actually be something sinister going on with the parents themselves.
PARENTS is a warped family drama that relishes on the juxtaposition of the perfect 50’s family and the horrors that are happening within it. The dark, comic delivery of its stars, particularly Mary Beth Hurt as mother Lily, and Sandy Dennis as social worker, Millie Dew, really sells the story, with their maternal relationship to Michael only emphasising how much of a dilemma this poor little boy is in. Does he choose loyalty to his family or does he seek help from outsiders?
As a film made at the backend of the 80’s, the way in which the crew have captured the look of the 1950’s is incredible. From the sets and vehicles, right down to wardrobe and hair, it truly feels as though you’re looking into the window of cheesy suburban 50’s life albeit with a ominous vibe lingering throughout. By following the film from the kid’s perspective, the viewer feels as vulnerable as Michael does which is where the fear is really built. Whilst there’s not much in the way of blood and gore, the tension is established through the family’s interactions and gradually builds to its conclusion with a helping of nightmarish episodes along the way.
Vestron Video have given PARENTS the Blu-Ray treatment in 2.0 stereo audio with a helping of extras including director and producer commentary, as well as a cool 20 minute interview with Mary Beth Hart entitled ‘Mother’s Day’ where she discusses the movie and how she got involved. There’s more interviews besides, with composer Jonathan Elias, screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne, DoP Robin Vidgeon and Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo, as well as theatrical trailer, radio spots and stills gallery, making this Vestron Video release quite the package.