Parents (1989)

Watching Bob Balaban’s “Parents,” I realized that one of the few things in horror movies that truly, viscerally grosses me out is cannibalism. So the juxtaposition of ’50s true-blue Americana with secretly cannibalistic parents makes for a striking movie-watching experience: It’s sickly sweet in that deliberately superficial, surface-level Republicanism of the ’50s, but like that same political movement, that sheen hides a deeply corrupt, rotted core, which in this case, it’s cannibalistic parents. Seen through the eyes of their deeply concerned, scared son (played by an unusually prescient Bryan Madorsky, who communicates a great deal of internal strife with even just a sad look), the narrative takes on a deeply disturbing tone that’s deliberately at odds with Balaban’s rosy presentation, because it literalizes the encroaching threat of suburban and cultish oppression, as well as conformity in life-or-death terms. By the time the climax rolls around, things take an even grimmer tone and the narrative spirals out of control a tad, but the final shot memorably suggests genetic nihilism in a way that concludes things rather satisfactorily. It’s not exactly a great movie per se, but it sure is memorable.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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