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MUM AND DAD
DIR: Steven Shiel
What’s It All About?
Lena (Olga Fedori) works as a cleaner at Heathrow airport, one night she misses her bus home and a friendly co-worker, Birdie (Ainsley Howard) says that Lena should come and stay the night at her place. When she gets there Lena is knocked out and kidnapped. She wakes to discover that she’s being held prisoner by a ‘family’ of torturers, headed by Mum (Dido Miles) and Dad (Perry Benson)
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Well, aside from the obvious fact that extreme horror, which this most assuredly is, is a niche genre at best, Mum and Dad did – despite the best efforts of distributors Revolver, who released it simultaneously at cinemas, on demand, online and on DVD around Christmas 2008 – get lost in the shuffle somewhat. By trying to stand out in the Christmas market it rather shot itself in the foot, being rather too different for audiences to take a punt on, and not having the advertising budget to make its innovative release pattern work as well as it should have.
Why Should You See It?
Before I tell you about the film, permit me a short digression. Mum and Dad was the first production funded by the groundbreaking Film London Microwave scheme, which provides up to £120,000 in funding as well as practical support and a promise of distribution for first time filmmakers working in the UK capital. Happily it’s one of the few arts funding schemes that, currently, hasn’t been laid low by government cuts. It’s worth supporting, not only in principal, but also because it’s turned out some fine films (notably Eran Creevy’s Shifty). That slightly political digression made, let’s move on.
Mum and Dad is a pretty classical horror film; imagine The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with Fred and Rose West instead of Leatherface, but for all its familiarity, all the trappings of genre, this is an effective and frequently disturbing work. Director Steven Shiel gives his audience little room to breathe. 13 minutes in we enter Mum and Dad’s nightmare house, and we don’t leave it; the audience are effectively taken prisoner along with Lena. As well as maintaining an ever present sense of threat from all quarters, Shiel uses his setting (a house almost adjacent to the runways at Heathrow Airport) to keep us on edge. He emphasises shots of planes; a frequent reminder of the goal of escape, and uses their sound to create a semi constant rumble on the soundtrack, achieving a similarly unnerving tone as David Lynch did with the constant rumble of INLAND EMPIRE.
The torture scenes, rather than being a carrot for the audience (as in, say, the recent I Spit on Your Grave remake) are personal and painful. Shiel dwells in the violence not to thrill but to unnerve us. Blood is actually quite thin on the ground, and so the horror comes both from the viscerally painful acts of violence (Mum puncturing Lena’s skin with a sharpened knitting needle, Dad and Birdie’s mute brother Elbie (Toby Alexander) stuffing Lena in a suitcase and beating it with a mallet) and from the way that the family reacts to it. For some (Birdie) it seems to be a day to day survival tactic, but for others, especially Mum, there are much more disturbing implications. In the scenes where she tortures Lena, Dido Miles suggests that Mum is getting a near orgasmic thrill from what she’s doing, and this, along with the close detail and exceptional special effects used to realise the sequence, make for a skin crawling experience.
However, there is also humour here, as Shiel holds this ‘family’ up as a grotesque mirror, especially in the hilarious climactic Christmas Day scene in which the family and their ‘pet’ go through the usual Christmas rituals, all the while surrounded by twitching victims nailed to the wall as decorations. In fact the whole film also works as a darkly comic commentary on the nuclear family.
The small cast are all excellent. The only person who may be familiar is Perry Benson (who has done several films with Shane Meadows, notably Somerstown), who is an imposing and threatening presence as Dad, but for me it’s Dido Miles as Mum and Olga Fedori as Lena who really walk away with the film. Miles is deceptive; outwardly a typical working class Mum, but she’s the terrifying presence in the house, because she doesn’t kill like Dad does, she tortures and scars for fun, and her ability to turn on a dime from loving (she calls Lena ‘Angel’) to calmly torturing so she can get off is utterly chilling. Fedori makes for a perfect final girl, giving a steely, near silent, performance in which everything we need to know comes from behind the eyes. She’s also got a brilliant, iconic, final girl shot at the end of the film.
This is a hugely impressive debut from Steven Shiel, an intelligent, thoughtful and frightening horror film which is both specifically British and highly accessible, it’s well worth catching for any horror fan.
How Can You See It?
The UK DVD is now inexpensive, and it’s stacked with features, notably Steven Shiel’s excellent short film Through a Vulture Eye.
Next Week: Action with Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh in Police Story 3: Supercop