Friday, August 22, 2014

Parents (1989)

The late 80s were lousy with black comedies.  Some, like The 'Burbs, could be acclaimed as minor triumphs. Others, like Lucky Stiff, are as justly forgotten as Nancy Kerrigan.  Parents probably falls right on the median point between small reward and unloved obscurity.  It trades in a common currency for 80s black comedy, cannibalism (cf. Lucky Stiff, Eating Raoul), but tries to wring some art out of a concept that's a little too tiny for its loftier goals.

A kid named Michael moves with his parents to a new town.  Mom and Dad love meat, and vegan viewers will want to keep buckets handy for the all the shots of ribs and briskets.  Michael isn't so keen on meat or on his parents, who seem to be exhibiting very weird behavior.  We as adult viewers aren't so likely to be confused by Mom and Dad getting caught in various acts.  But it's maybe harder to explain why Dad is apparently packing home bodies from his nebulously creepy job at Toxico Chemicals.

Parents keeps its ambiguity much of the time.  It's definitely suggested that Dad and Mom are into bad business, but it's also implied that Michael is struggling with some developmental, or just mental, issues.  He's much scrawnier than the kids in his class (and eventually befriends the schoolgirl version of a kaiju, to really hammer home the point).  He also doesn't react as a kid learning about cannibalism would.  His facial blankness never changes and only occasionally does he let out a gasp, never a scream or tears.  In one scene, he apparently doesn't recognize a teacher speaking directly to him, a few inches from his face.

So is Parents a real suburban nightmare or just some troubled kid's fever dream?  You decide, because it probably doesn't matter anyway.  The mixed materials never really gel that well and prevent the good acting and great photography from saving the film.  Even if it's not a classic,  though, Parents is probably worth one look.  It's a horror-comedy that doesn't skimp on the horror and a good example of a film that could probably never be made now.  


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