Mum & Dad

Mum & Dad (Steven Sheil, 2008)

As we enter 2009 and look back on the year previous, it wouldn’t be outrageous of me to herald 2008 as a banner year for British shockers, but there are many who would undoubtedly disagree. While James Watkins’ EDEN LAKE polarised audiences—some found it too gratuitous and cited it for being the cinematic equivalent of a Daily Mail exposé on Britain’s youth culture—there’s no denying that it’s a powerful and uncompromising exploitationer, the likes of which hasn’t been made in this country for a long, long time. Similarly, writer/director Steven Sheil’s MUM & DAD is just as effective and unflinching in its portrait of the depths of depravity and violence some of the members of our society are capable of sinking to. It’s also a film that is guaranteed to split audiences straight down the middle, not literally, though.

Lena (Olga Fedori – soon to be seen in Joe Johnston’s THE WOLFMAN) is your stereotypical Eastern European migrant: quiet and hardworking. Arriving in England from Poland, Lena takes a job cleaning the unsettlingly empty terminals of London’s Heathrow Airport, working the graveyard shift. While Lena is content to keep her head down and work, her co-worker Birdie (Ainsley Howard) bombards her with questions and introduces her to her somewhat subdued brother, Elbie (Toby Alexander). As their shift draws to a close, the trio emerge at the airport’s entrance only for Lena to discover that she has missed the last bus home. Birdie badgers her newfound friend into joining them on their journey home and to stay in the family home for the night. Lena reluctantly agrees but this will prove to be the biggest mistake of her life, as Birdie’s “Mum” (Dido Miles) – and “Dad” (Perry Benson – OPERATION GOOD GUYS, SOMERS TOWN) are a demented pair who specialise in the torture and murder of the unwilling souls brought to them by their “daughter”. As the poster of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE once bellowed, “The lucky ones died first”, and the same can be said of those brought into this house, as there’s a fate much worse than death that awaits anyone who Mum and Dad take a shine to. Rather than using them as an object of their sexual desire or torturing them in the most gruesome of ways, they become inducted into the family itself and used to do the bidding of the sick degenerate couple. It soon becomes apparent that it is this fate that Lena has in store…

MUM & DAD is most definitely not a film for anyone of a nervous disposition or those that have a low tolerance to gore. It’s a deeply unsettling film but one that is all the more affective because of its characterisation and a social commentary-rich subtext. Twenty years ago, the majority of viewers would have written the film off as far-fetched nonsense but in light of the Fred and Rosemary West case its premise is both believable and incredibly frightening. Suffice to say, there is no doubt that Sheil was heavily influenced by the events surrounding those that took place in Cromwell Road, and even those murdered at the hands of John Christie at Rillington Place. That said, one is also aware of Sheil’s cinematic influences too and MUM & DAD owes a great debt to the likes of the aforementioned Tobe Hopper film and Blighty’s own FRIGHTMARE, directed by Pete Walker. In fact the feeling of claustrophobic tension MUM & DAD emits owes as much to Walker’s dark and immensely stuffy HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, so it’s fair to assume that Sheil is familiar with the older director’s work. The acting is first rate too and Benson, who has been sidelined as a supporting player for most of his career, is an absolute revelation in his role. His character drifts between psychotic sexual deviant and charming and, dare I say it, caring patriarch seamlessly, but a menacing undercurrent remains and it is to Benson’s credit that the character remains believable throughout. Miles is exceptional too, instilling calculating cool and cruel spikes in her character’s behaviour. Fedori, Howard and Alexander all turn in terrific performances too.

Revolver Entertainment’s recently released DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen. The print is free of blemishes and the transfer is fine, though the film’s muted use of colour would never have been the most problematic to reproduce. Audio is confined to just a surround mix. The sound is functional and the material itself doesn’t beg for the bells and whistles that a 5.1 mix provides. Revolver has pushed out the boat in terms of additional features. Seeing the supplements bestowed upon this film just highlights how weak Optimum’s EDEN LAKE was. Kicking things off is a nice and concise chat track from Sheil and producer Lisa Trinovski. The writer/director also appears in an interview and once more for a Q&A session recorded at last year’s Frightfest. There are also on-set interviews with the film’s cast and crew, a brief behind-the-scenes feature and the trailer. Rounding out the package is the Sheil’s intriguing 2006 short, THROUGH A VULTURE EYE.

So there you have it, Revolver Entertainment has produced a great disc for an essential British horror film. MUM & DAD is a wonderful piece of exploitation cinema, but it’s the film’s parallels with the West case that give it credibility and elevate it above many of its schlockier counterparts. Give it a go. You may be disgusted but you most certainly won’t be disappointed.

(Paul Alaoui)