The 1950s. Young Michael Laemle suspects his perfect Eisenhower-era parents, Nick and Lily might well be cannibals. A child psychologist takes an interest.
A surprisingly perfect picture from first‑time director Bob Balaban (previously best-known as a mild-mannered character actor), this makes unsettling use of kitsch ‘50s suburban décor (kidney-shaped coffee tables), creepy‑comic performances and subversive ideas (the message is don’t trust your parents).
The Laemle family seem utterly normal as Dad develops defoliants for the Toxico company while his adoring wife slaves over the cooker producing perfect meals, but their little boy can’t stop wondering what goes into Mom's tasty meat dishes. The really scary idea isn’t that parents might be cannibals but that grown-ups are alien creatures who have absolute power over children.
Two-parts Eating Raoul to one-part The Stepfather, Parents is a bizarrely nostalgic fable with a darkly gruesome centre in the scary, uptight ideal couple, perfectly played – in career-best turns – by Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt. The film’s most unnerving scene finds Hurt asked by a therapist if she can tell her something about her child. The immaculately coiffed housewife is completely unable to come up with anything beyond ‘he’s not a big eater’.
Young Bryan Madorsky doesn't quite click as the junior paranoid - although Juno Mills-Cockell is wonderful as his weird girlfriend who claims to be an alien - and the switch from warped sit-com to stabbing near the end is unsettling, but, for the most part, this is one of those films your warped friends bully you into seeing. The home stretch is particularly gruesome.
The score mixes '50s oddities ('The Flying Purple People Eater', Perez Prado) with eerie rhythms from David Lynch’s regular composer Angelo Badalamenti, and the wicked jokes keep coming. Nearly a classic.
Unfairly neglected, perfectly creepy and disturbing suburban bizarro drama.