Shelf Life (1993)

There are overprotective parents, and then there are overprotective, paranoid parents. Unfortunately for the kids in Paul Bartel’s Shelf Life, their parents are the latter breed, complete with underground bunker and the will to use it. The minute their drunken mother and uptight father hear the news that President Kennedy’s been shot, they usher the kids underground.

Before the fall.

Before the fall.

Fast forward a few decades, and, well, they’re still underground. Mom and dad didn’t last too long in the bunker, but luckily had stocked enough canned goods to keep their children alive for all this time. Unluckily, the entrance to the outside world is blocked, and the kids are stuck. Since they were so young when they went under, and only have blips of television to glimpse the world above every once in a while, their emotional growth is stunted, to say the least.

Shelf Life is mostly comprised of scene after scene of the games the three kids play with each-other to pass the time. They’re related to the things their parents said and the short glimpses they get of adult life on television. The “kids” make good use of all the stuff in the bunker as props for their games, and the games they play offer insight into their childlike heads.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

Apparently, Shelf Life was first a stage play. Paul Bartel saw it, loved it, and wanted to make it into a movie. The film stars the same folks that created and acted in the stage play. Unfortunately, Shelf Life was never officially distributed, and there’s not much information I can seem to find about it lying around.

I can’t say that I loved this movie, which makes sense – I’ve never been one with much of a tolerance for stage plays, and it is very clear throughout this movie that this was originally intended for the stage. That’s not to say it’s not worthy a film adaptation, but for someone whose tastes don’t run that way, it’s just not a good fit. There’s lots of singing, dancing, and goofiness, and honestly I just wanted the movie to go somewhere. It didn’t, really. It’s worth watching if you’re into Paul Bartel, and frankly, if you’re really into Paul Bartel, you will probably dig this. Hopefully some day this movie will get a proper release.


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