Saturday, November 12, 2005

Day 43: Parents

Bob Balaban's Parents is a smart horrorish film, one that wisely sets its foundation in Freudian psychology.  It effectively depicts the creeping unease of a child who’s come to believe that he’s not safe with his parents as his awareness of them grows.  Bryan Madorsky, who plays the kid, is great and the movie also features a genuinely creepy performance by Randy Quaid as the kid’s dad.  It’s a funny movie but also scary, with more than a couple great horror movie moments.  Unfortunately, the movie dives into the pool of convention towards the end and it’s here that the filmmaking itself fails the film and its ideas.

But still, lots to like in the movie.  I was surprised at how affected I was by the horror moments.  A scene in which a social worker is menaced by an unknown assailant in a pantry is as good as any Argento sequence (though only ¼ as long), particularly in the editing.  A few images from the movie stand out to me as well: sausages snaking around a little kid, a hand sticking out of a garbage disposal, and Randy Quaid’s sweaty, angry expression.  And, boy, did I like the moment when, as the camera panned past a wall in a house, the cheerful music that was playing faded out as we entered the next room.

The relationship between the three principles (Boy, Father, Mother) is handled well.  Because the Father and the Boy are at odds with each other, the Mother is constantly picking which side she’ll be on and, more often, it is on the side of the Boy.  It’s all very Freudian, as I said, and acted well by Mary Beth Hurt.  Quaid is a mean dad, telling his kid scary stories to teach him lessons.  The Mother protests, but Quaid’s eventual revelation of why he’s so hard on his son is great:  “He scares me.  He doesn’t look like me, he doesn’t act like me…”

It’s also a nice choice to set the movie in the 50s.  Since the plot deals with the growing realization the kid has that his parents are up to something suspicious, it resonates that all of this is going on in the Eisenhower-era or, if you like, the Father Knows Best era.  The fact that it deals with food seems even more appropriate given the fact that nutritional information and the marketing of the food pyramid feel as if they come from the 50s, even if they didn’t.  

The movie is shaky, though, in filmmaking terms, something that I can overlook if the overall effect isn’t diminished.  Here, diminishment occurs.  Towards the end, the movie devolves into a slow-motion parade that is both cloying and maddening.  I liked everything that was going on in the movie here, conventional though it may have been, but I hated the way it was captured.  This is the most egregious offense, because the movie does have a nice build prior to this and it really destroys all of the movie’s tension.

For most of its running time, Parents is a well-made Freudian horror movie.  I would say it’s the best Freudian horror movie, but Spider exists and covers much of the same ground in a better, more confident way.  Nevertheless, if Freudian horror comedy is what you’re looking for, Parents is worth your time.

5 comments:

Redphi5h said...

The father being fearful of the son is rather the opposite of the Oedipal idea, isn't it?

Ikin said...

Did we really get through high school together and I never made you watch this movie?

I wore out the Box Office Video copy. My folks were a little disturbed. I used to rent it with Eating Raoul for kicks.

David Wester said...

Ikin: I think it was payback for the fact that you never watched the original Dawn of the Dead

Ikin said...

...and I still haven't seen the original.

I own the remake and I've seen Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead.

Does that count?

Ash Karreau said...

No.