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VIDEO ESSAY: PARENTS, directed by Bob Balaban

VIDEO ESSAY: PARENTS, directed by Bob Balaban

Parents – Nightmares of Childhood from John Keefer on Vimeo.

[Editor’s note: Press Play is pleased to welcome filmmaker John Keefer to our roster of contibutors.]

Parents is a film with an intimate and acute knowledge of what it feels like to be a frightened child, citing the source of those fears as a growing awareness of the carnality of adults.

The film was not a success critically or commercially on its first release in 1989. Reviews complained of a mixed tone — that it didn’t know if it wanted to be a horror or a comedy. But the film works best if taken from the point of view of a child. A tipoff comes from the opening image; it suggests a boy’s point of view, or perhaps a Missing Child photo from the side of a carton of milk. What the boy sees is what we all see at one point or another: the strange behaviors and bizarre rituals of adults glimpsed through banisters from upstairs.

I blame the accusations of a mixed tone on the fact that there were two listed Directors of Photography. Taken from the p.o.v. of the boy, the tone is perfectly consistent: bright, perfect days dissolving into nightmares and monsters under the bed. In this sense, the film’s ’50s setting isn’t so much indicting the hypocrisy of the time as much as using the period to suggest the archetypes of the father, the mother, and the confusion we all share as the child.

I haven’t mentioned the plot: Michael realizes his parents are cannibals and the leftovers they keep trying to get him to eat are actually people. He doesn’t spend the film trying to convince police or school officials that his Parents are dangerous and need to be stopped. We just see him being affected by it. Which is just right.

I can’t say if this is a great film, but it’s one I saw at the perfect time. I was around ten or eleven when it played on cable, and it was just a little over my head, which is probably why it’s stuck with me for the past eighteen years. It’s a film about the moment before the last moment of childhood, a time when nightmares were very real.

John Keefer is a writer/director of short films working out of Phoenixville, PA. You can view his work here. You can follow him on twitter here.

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