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Mum & Dad

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Steven Sheil
Perry Benson
Dido Miles
Olga Fedori
Ainsley Howard
Toby Alexander
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Widely touted as an example of home grown British torture porn upon its release, "Mum & Dad" is the debut feature from UK writer & director Steven Sheil. Those viewers coming to this ultra low budget effort expecting a straightforward rehash of "Hostel" or "Saw", or France's current vogue for the 'cinema of the extreme', as it's been called, will doubtless be disappointed: "Mum & Dad" harks back much further, to the sleazier side of '70s British exploitation films, and a particularly British sub-genre of suburban domestic Horror that centers on the dysfunctional family unit and was typified by much of the work of Pete Walker, whose "House of Whipcord" and the brilliant "Frightmare" are the primary reference points for this little gem, along with Freddie Francis' "Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly" and the little seen mystical psychological family drama "The Corpse". Sheil knows his obscure British Horror, but rather cleverly dispenses with the quaint tone many of those films can now appear to have in retrospect, injecting the sub-genre with a thoroughly modern level of brutal violence while still retaining the slightly surreal edginess and black humour that made Walker's films, in particular, so memorable.
Inevitably "Mum & Dad" fails to make quite the same level of impact of easily more extreme contemporary films such as "Martyrs"; and, strangely, it's a lot less bleak and cynical overall in tone than some of its main influences, like, say, "House of Whipcord". Nevertheless, the relentless, downbeat, soap opera 'normalcy' of the setting in which the horrors of the film take place, along with an unusual emphasis on character (albeit some extremely grotesque characters) in the writing and in the performances of all the cast, gives it a refreshingly stark, honest quality that makes the unpleasantness often being hinted at by the material beneath the surface all the more affecting, and the on-screen violence all the more shocking.
Migrant Polish worker Lena (Olga Fedori) finds herself trapped in one of the crappier corners of suburban Blighty, working nights cleaning offices and toilets for minimum wage at a minor airport (one of the first images of the film is of a toilet bowel pebble-dashed with shit). Here she meets garrulous teenage co-worker Birdie (Ainsley Howard) and her equally taciturn brother Elbie (Toby Alexander). Talkative Birdie seems friendly enough, although she's not averse to stealing the belongings she finds while cleaning out the offices, something that makes Lena uneasy. She also appears more than determined to have Lena come back with her to her 'mum & dads', rather than have her take the bus home to where she lives, which is some miles away.
Eventually, Birdie engineers a situation which forces Lena to miss the bus, and being unable to afford a taxi she somewhat reluctantly accepts Birdie's offer of a bed for the night at her parents' house. No sooner is she through the front door of their bland semi-detached home (directly in the flight path of the airplanes that are constantly leaving or landing at the airport) than she is beaten, drugged and handcuffed to a bare truckle bed in a darkened empty upstairs bedroom with bare floorboards and discoloured walls behind scraps of scrapped-off and peeling wallpaper. Here, kept in a semi-comatose state for weeks, she is introduced to Birdie and Elbie's mum & dad, a sadistic couple of serial killing sadists who kidnap those who won't be missed, steal their possessions and either dispose of them or brutalise them, so-much-so that they, like Elbie, become easily manipulated drones.
But not before mum and dad have had their 'fun'.
Dad likes to hack up the bodies of his victims in the tool shed and enjoys masturbating into their bloody internal organs. Mum gets sexual kicks from stripping their prisoners of their clothes and torturing them by piercing their bodies with metal spikes, while her daughter watches with glee. Lena finds herself being gradually initiated into the family rituals: a seemingly ordinary lifestyle punctuated by random bursts of violence and torture. Breakfast in the morning might seem completely normal, with the family sat around the breakfast table; but there is likely to be something unpleasant being cooked up in the frying pan and bloody body parts wrapped up in polythene could well be lying about! To survive, Lena has to convince the family that she loves her new mum & dad, but this arouses the cruel jealousy of her new 'sister Birdie, and a battle of wits and for favour ensues between the two girls.
Unlike Pete Walker's films, which were really conceived as a series of satirical stabs at the values of middle England, "Mum & Dad" can't help benefiting from getting an extra frisson of terror from the fact that real British serial killers such as Fred and Rosemary West have since emerged, whose unbelievable exploits and perverse lifestyles leave their fictional '70s exploitation film counterparts in the dust! Perry Benson who plays 'Dad' is usually seen in minor TV roles but is perfect here as the seemingly ordinary, football-loving, tabloid-reading, 'White Van Man' patriarch who just happens to enjoy unusual hobbies in his spare time such as forcing a young woman into a canvas holdall bag and then whacking her as hard as he can with a heavy mallet! Dido Miles attacks the role of pervert sadist Mum with equal relish. Supporting cast members also make a good impression, particularly Ainsley Howard as the chavy Birdie, while the waifish Olga Fedori makes her cipher of a character sympathetic despite an inevitably thinly written role. If the premise that 'mum & dad' could get away with such brutal behaviour for so long seems slightly unrealistic, it is more than put into perspective by the fact that people like the Wests and Joseph Fritzl carried out their crimes and avoided capture for decades. "Mum & Dad" could well be destined for cult status in future years and Steven Sheil, should he choose to remain in the Horror genre, is someone to keep a close eye on.
The DVD from Revolver Entertainment features a good transfer of a nice-looking Digital Video shot film and a decent selection of extras in the form of commentary, interviews, behind the scenes sequences and a Frightfest Q & A session.


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