Mum & Dad (2008)


UK. 2008.


Director/Screenplay – Steven Sheil, Producer – Lisa Trnovski, Photography – Jonathan Bloom, Special Effects Designer – Simon Craze, Makeup Effects Designer – Vikki Lawson, Production Design – Jess Alexander. Production Company – 2AM Films/Microwave Films


Olga Fedori (Lena), Perry Benson (Dad), Dido Miles (Mum), Ainsley Howard (Birdie), Toby Alexander (Elbie)


Lena, a Polish migrant, has just started a cleaning job at Heathrow Airport. She is befriended by Birdie, another girl on the job. Birdie ends up causing Lena to miss her bus home at the end of the shift. Birdie insists that Lena come back to the nearby house where she and her non-speaking brother Elbie live. However, as soon as she is in the door, Lena is rendered unconscious with an injection. She comes around to find herself a prisoner of the couple who only call themselves Mum and Dad. Mum enjoys torturing and cutting Lena, while Dad is monstrously perverse. Kept a prisoner, Lena tries to deal with the cruelties inflicted on her while trying to find a means to escape.

British cinema has never particularly taken to the idea of the Backwoods Brutality cycle as typified by US films like Deliverance (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). There have been sporadic British efforts to delve into the territory in recent years with the likes of Broken (2006), The Cottage (2008), Eden Lake (2008) and In Fear (2013). That said, England, which is far smaller geographically, seems to lacking the yawning divide between city and backwoods that the US has – it is less believable to think there are in-bred killers hiding in the sleepy country villages than the Appalachian backwoods. That said, one should remember that Straw Dogs (1971), which this author cites as the first film in the Backwoods Brutality cycle, was a US-made film set in Cornwall.

Mum & Dad is one film that transforms Backwoods Brutality themes in ways that are uniquely British – although urban set, the same conflicts we get in Texas Chain Saw and the like play out beneath the surface. The film begins with a naturalism that could not be more everyday – Olga Fedori, as a Polish cleaning girl new on the job, befriends co-worker Ainsley Howard and is invited home after she misses her bus. It is from there that the film propels itself into the harrowing. In a rapidly short course of time, Olga Fedori is knocked out, given an injection to the throat to stop her from screaming and made a prisoner. We meet the rest of the family, including Mum (Dido Miles) who pierces needles through Olga’s flesh and enjoys cutting her back. We are first introduced to Dad (Perry Benson) as he is in the process of sexually relieving himself using a piece of meat of unidentified origin.

From these scenes, we can see we are in a decidedly disturbed territory and Steven Sheil does not let us down in this regard. Sheil doesn’t exactly embrace the contemporaneous Torture Porn movement, nor does he exactly shy away from it. There is no shortage of grim and nasty scenes with Perry Benson being forced to kill his friend when Olga Fedori tries to get his help, followed by a scene where he makes Olga kiss the severed head. What gives the film a decidedly disturbing edge is the completely whacked sense of normalcy it operates under. This is a film where the family sit down to breakfast in a tiny kitchen and porn videos play on the tv in the background and Toby Alexander carries plastic bags of unidentified meat out to the garbage to be chastised for dripping blood all over the floor. Or the Christmas scene where the household decorations include a man nailed to a cross on the wall (something that nobody ever seems to comment on). The performances are unnervingly on the ball, especially from Perry Benson who gets the portrait of a working class British man down with frightening regard, along a nasal voicing that grates on your nerves like nails on a blackboard.

Following the strong showing he made here, director Steven Sheil subsequently went on to make the horror film Dead Mine (2012). He has also co-written the screenplay for the horror film Gozo (2015). Mum & Dad should not be confused with the subsequent American mass insanity film Mom & Dad (2017).

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