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Mum and Dad (2008)

I decided that the only way to follow up yesterdays guest review of the brilliant Japanese film Rashomon is to showcase a film on the total opposite side of the spectrum. I present to you the brutal, savage, sick and twisted British film Mum & Dad.

Mum & Dad is the debut feature by writer-director Steven Sheil. Partly inspired by the grisly, real-life exploits of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, and starring Shane Meadows regular Perry Benson (This Is England), the film puts a unique spin on the British horror genre, setting its tale very close to home (quite literally) and resulting in a brutally realistic horror story.

Mum and Dad, and their ‘adopted’ children, Birdie & Elbie, work at the airport. The family live off whatever they scavenge from cargo holds, offices and hotels – including a steady stream of transient workers who populate the airport’s soulless hub. When Lena, a young Polish office cleaner, is befriended by Birdie, she gets drawn into a nightmarish world of torture, murder and perversity. Imprisoned in a suburban House of Horrors and designated a ‘Mummy’s Girl’, Lena’s only options appear to be to become part of the family – and join them in their insanity – or die.

Each member of this household is truly messed up. First up we have ‘Dad’, nearly always wearing his wife beater (vest), we first meet him as he’s hacking away at a victim. A more formal introduction is made later on, as he’s seen furiously masturbating into a hunk of severed flesh. Yeah, you read that right, it happened and is shown in all it’s HD glory……. ‘Mum’ is more repressed. She likes to play with her “adopted” children, in a ritual that involves scarring them with a scalpel and driving knitting needles through their skin. The adopted son is either mentally handicapped or excellent at putting it on. He doesn’t speak, and whilst no reason is really given for this, when you see what he has suffered and been through maybe it is just his defence mechanism. He’s defined mostly by his tendency toward voyeurism, and we see him playing with himself as he peers through peep-holes watching on his parents torture their victims. Finally, we have the evil and conniving sister, who lures the hapless heroine to the house. It’s tough to tell if her competition for Mum and Dad’s affections comes about from a full-on absorption into the twisted family or emerges as some sort of survival instinct.

As I’ve touched on so far, there are some very gruesome and sick moments in the film. These are surprisingly scarce though, and the majority of the film is all about Lena and her struggle to survive and ultimately try and escape from this ordeal. Then every now and again, the director throws in some horrific scenes just to keep us on our toes. Despite being made for only £100,000, the torture on show here looks frighteningly realistic.

There are probably a lot of moments and things said that will work more to a British audience. The Christmas scene in particular, (albeit a VERY messed up Christmas dinner, complete with hardcore pornography playing on the TV in the background, not quite the Queen’s speech!) is very British. Woolly jumpers, people crammed round a table with cheesy music playing. Oh, and the human on the cross, penis nailed to his thigh, nails holding him up on the wall for everyone to see.

The small cast are all great in their roles. Starting with Benson, after seeing him as the friendly and idiotic older member of the group in (the excellent!) ‘This Is England’ I can’t believe how convincing he is in the role of Dad. Not a nice character to play, but he does it so well, and succeeds not only in being terrifying and evil, but at times just happy and like a normal Dad. Dido Miles as the Mum is very subdued, and just goes along with whatever Dad says. Although she gets her own enjoyment out of the ‘deal’ and is as much to blame as anyone for the torture and pain caused to the victims. The victim we follow mainly here is played by Olga Fedori. Her little interactions and games with the sister Birdie are the comedic moments in the film, and both girls give great performances. As for the brother, Elbie, Toby Alexander works well with what he is given. Any role where your character has to remain mute is going to be tricky to pull off, but he does a solid job, and is maybe the only part of the family I had any sympathy for.

Personally, despite all the terrible sounding moments I’ve described, and the fact that there is nothing pleasant on show here, I didn’t hate Mum & Dad and whilst enjoy isn’t the right word, it is certainly a very well made movie with a plot that may sound ridiculous, but in reality isn’t too different from what we see in the news everyday. Maybe the most disturbing part of Mum & Dad is the way that it captures and distorts the very dynamics that exist in any family. During the movie we witness irrational guilt trips, unfair disciplinary structures, and a general sense of submission, supposedly enforced to preserve the family unit. Sure, there are some surreal and highly exaggerated moments to provoke a response and reaction from us viewers, but underneath it all is a simple plot about kidnapping and the frightening aspect is how real it all feels.

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16 Comments

  1. theipc

     /  October 17, 2012

    I’ve been tempted to rent this a number of times but this sounds like way too much beating off for my taste…

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    • Not an easy one to recommend…..I fell that anyone going into this has tracked it down specifically. I dont think its a film to find by accident. Messed up but actually quite good.

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  2. Sounds like a film I should check out– I thrive on films that are challenging, thoughtful and disturbing. They’re most often the most valuable film experiences. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. Great review. This sounds interesting.

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  4. Sounds like one sick puppy of movie man? I’m renting it at once! 😉

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  5. This sounds pretty f’ing amazing. Hopefully they have it on Amazon.

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  6. jmount43

     /  October 18, 2012

    Not quite sure about this one.

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