Parents is a surprisingly effective metaphor for parental abuse using a framing story about cannibalism. Vestron Video's Blu-Ray release features a fair transfer and some great extra features, making it a good Blu-Ray for those looking for Parents in 1080p.
Excellent exploration of the '50s familial dynamic
Interesting atmosphere aided by directorial decisions
Number of featurettes and commentaries adding value to the release
Somewhat grainy, soft image quality
Cannibalism aspect of the film feels somewhat unnecessary
Director Bob Balaban and writer Christopher Hawthorne tackle a difficult subject in Parents – and I’m not talking about the cannibalism that throws a pall over the happy-go-lucky 1950s tone. The film alternates between straight horror and comedy, but Hawthorne’s script mixes a lot of moody atmosphere into the colorful scenery of the setting, eventually hinting at sinister undertones about parental abuse and the ease in which taboo subjects can be hidden from public life only to rear their ugly head in the privacy of the home. Parents‘ horror scenario jokes with the audience about a seemingly well-adjusted family who may or may not eat people for dinner, but the more important subject is hidden beneath this facade in much the same way the characters hide their true selves.
The film follows Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky), a shy and reserved kid adjusting to life in the suburbs. His parents Lily (Mary Beth Hurt) and Nick (Randy Quaid) seem like the perfect couple – Nick holds down a great scientific job at the local Toxico plant while Lily stays home cooking, cleaning, and acting like a wonderful housewife. But Michael suspects that his parents are really cannibals, and he refuses to eat any of the meat that they put in front of him; even more, he begins to fear them, drawing violent pictures at school and attempting to explain to his social worker Millie (Sandy Dennis) the reasons why he’s so frightened of his basement.
Part of Parents‘ charm is its ’50s time period, and not just because of the excellent set designs and costumes. It’s actually an important designation for the film; we tend to view this era with rose-colored glasses, remembering the good whole-hearted family values of society, and yet Parents juxtaposes that with a disturbing tale of hidden parental violence. Michael is a conflicted boy, unable to escape the darkness that surrounds him because the monsters in his life happen to be the ones raising him. As he attends school, deals with common childhood problems, he’s plagued by an abusive father and a mother unwilling to subvert the patriarchal makeup of the family dynamic. It’s an occurrence that was and still is too common, and though Parents satirizes abuse by portraying it through the lens of cannibalism, the effects of this metaphor are still felt within the context of the film.
It helps that the cast members work well together. Quaid is truly a terrifying father here, foregoing his usual goofiness for cold, calculated bipolarity – his quick alternations between doting parent and angry mental case give Parents suspense in its later scenes when Michael begins to rebel. Equally complex is Hurt’s character Lily, who truly wants to give Michael a good life but struggles to figure out how quell her abusive husband. Parents spends a surprising amount of time with Lily and Michael together, building their tight relationship to give the film’s climax its emotional weight. Madorsky’s quiet portrayal of Michael is a highlight too; Hawthorne’s script focuses on the oddness and creativity of childhood, especially with Michael and his friend Sheila (London Juno), a refreshing portrayal of kids that is less stereotypical than it probably could have been.
In truth, it’s questionable whether Parents really needs its cannibalistic elements except to give the film some bloody humor. Still, these moments add interesting directorial decisions from Balaban, who experiments with long shots, low angles, lighting, and rotating platforms to provide an off-kilter mood. Visually, the film is an erratic experience that emphasizes the unease Michael feels in his own home, and it works to giveParents an intentionally conflicting emotional resonance.
It would be easy to write Parents off as a silly horror comedy about a family of cannibals and one kid’s attempt to avoid eating humans, but that would boil off the real draw of the film. Balaban manages to evoke a powerful message about the dangers of hidden abuse, and in the process attempts to expose the darkness often lacking in portrayals of ’50s-era society. Parents is surprisingly successful, both in the horror genre and those outside of it.
Vestron Video’s Blu-Ray of Parents comes with original artwork and a slipcover as well, fitting in well with the rest of the Vestron line-up. This release features an HD transfer of the film that matches Vestron Video’s penchant for good, but not great, image quality. The film has an overall chunky grain that is more noticeable in darker lighting – in bright light, Parents actually looks quite good. Along with the grain comes a softness and lack of depth that is highly noticeable in some of the film’s longer shots. The film also loses detail in its blacks, and for a film that uses quite a bit of shadow, it’s pretty apparent. However, the color saturation pops, especially in the film’s outdoor shots featuring the garden greenery and red roses. I have to say that I’m not super impressed with the picture quality, although it’s certainly serviceable and perhaps the best that Vestron could offer.
The audio comes in 2.0 DTS-HD MA, and while Parents doesn’t have a memorable audio presentation, it still sounds good on this disc. I did notice a few volume drop-outs with dialogue, but nothing too concerning. There is also a subtitle track for those that like to use them.
The special features offer very similar content to the rest of Vestron’s releases. An audio commentary with director Bob Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef is the stand-out feature, but there’s also an isolated film score featuring partial commentary with composer Jonathan Elias that adds some added insight into the music. For featurettes, the Parents Blu-Ray offers four. Christopher Hawthorne, the film’s writer, talks about his work on the film and the amount of gratitude he received from viewers who experienced a childhood similar to what Parents portrays; Mary Beth Hurt (Lily) talks about her experiences on set, Randy Quaid and his kindness, and memories of her family in the ’50s; Robin Vidgeon, director of photography, talks about some of the shots and decisions made in the film; and Yolando Cuomo, decorative consultant, discusses the inspiration for the ’50s sets and costume designs.
Also included are trailers, radio spots, and a still gallery. Overall, there’s about 50 minutes of featurettes on here not including the audio commentaries, making this another solid Blu-Ray from Vestron Video in terms of extras. However, the disc loses points for its lackluster image.
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