Parents (1989) Bob Balaban
Parents is the most repulsive movie I’ve seen in a long while. I watched it many years ago before I could read the symbolism or see underlying messages and at the time, it played like an oddity that didn’t quite know what to do with itself. It was marketed as a horror comedy, but it is neither.
Viewing it today it’s still not funny, it is scary, but only in a way that the glorification of Satanic Ritual Abuse can be. The entire film is one trauma after the next for the child of two 1950s-era cannibals whose surroundings are squeaky clean, their home the perfect example of atomic chic. But beneath the façade are their horrible secrets of murder and perversity that is highlighted in the most casual way. A homemaker wife and a grill master husband are just that. Butchery and nastiness is kept off camera to further confuse the son, who the viewer is meant to identify with. The boy’s seemingly perpetual trepidation and telling crayon drawing of his family attests to a history of abuse.
The ritual abuse as depicted in this movie feels tantamount to a confession of first hand experience by the filmmakers themselves. Again, as also horrifyingly presented in The Ring 2, the child, Michael, is showered with love from one parent and in the next moment terrorized by the other, a classic technique used in trauma-based mind control. His dreams are horror shows where he is consumed by his parents and phallic sausages come toward his mouth leaving no doubt that sexual trauma is part of his abuse. But Balaban instills further ideas of inappropriate sex at us by having the boy Michael befriend an older child who towers over him. The dominant girl initiates sex games and drinking, while the scent of necrophilia shrouds their scene of child debauchery.
Even when Michael’s awake, he is subject to the sight of his parents in a disturbing scene of animal lust and a school psychologist who prods him about things of a sexual nature. All this and the daily pressures of eating so many leftovers that he asks, “What were the leftovers before they were leftovers?” And so it’s by at least 1989 that Satanic Ritual Abuse was memorialized as comedy.
This review first appeared in the print version of Victims of Cinema. The first 50 reviews can be obtained HERE.