Image Entertainment // 2008 // 85 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // May 27th, 2009
They're dying to have you over.
OK, you know this one: A young woman is lured to a strange house near London where she is imprisoned and subjected to torture, sexual abuse, and assorted degradations at the hands of a family of psychopaths.
That, in a nutshell, is Mum & Dad, the first feature for writer/director Steven Sheil. Does this British import bring anything new to the let's-have-human-organs-for-dinner table?
Well, a bit.
More interesting than many of its American torture-porn kin, Mum & Dad takes its influences from the obvious -- Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- and the not-so-obvious -- quirky '60s and '70s Brit horror like Freddie Francis' Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly and Pete Walker films like Frightmare.
Mum and Dad are not backwoods mutants, but a working-class couple who live in a dingy house near the airport. They've "adopted" two adult children, Birdie (Ainsley Howard) and Elbie (Toby Alexander), who work cleaning toilets at Heathrow. That's where they meet Lena (Olga Fedori) and trick her into coming by for the evening. The rest of the film deals with her capture, repeated torment -- mostly at the hands of moderately deranged Mum, who "protects" her from the all-out sexual sadist that is Dad -- and her attempts to resist and escape.
Much of the movie, naturally, is sickening. Lena is cut and shackled, dismembered body parts abound, and -- more interesting than the gore -- we get a portrait of a dysfunctionally functional make-shift family. The "children" have chores that they have to do, including disposing of unused body parts and sorting through the belongings of victims. Mum and Dad have their pets and favorites, and there is more than one lecture delivered by Dad about following house rules.
Helping elevate all this are the performances of Dido Miles and Perry Benson as the titular parental figures. At times, both seem to forget that they are in a low-budget horror film and play it straight, as though this is one of the social dramas -- "kitchen sink films -- from the early '60s. Watching these two points up an irony: this film actually could have worked without all the gore and sadism. It probably would have worked better if more was implied than shown. Lying beneath this standard-issue cut-and-torture production is a far more interesting and quirky story of madness and decay. Unfortunately, every time this angle starts to manifest, Sheil tosses in another revolting visual.
Mum & Dad is a product of Film London: Microwave, a program that offers fledgling filmmakers assistance and opportunity to make a feature for less than £100,000 (around $160,000).
For a small film, this is a really good release, with a great looking picture and very nice stereo soundtrack. There are lots of extras: a commentary with Sheil and producer Lisa Trnovski; a stand-alone interview with Sheil; interviews with Sheil and the cast at a Frightfest screening; a series of brief interviews with Sheil, Benson, Trnovski, and other crew members; "Through a Vulture Eye," a short (just over 2 mins.) film by Sbeil; and a Behind-the-Scenes feature that consists of camcorder footage shot...behind the scenes.
Once upon a time, films featuring excessive gore and sadism were considered daring and cutting edge. Now, that stuff seems rote, a fall back for a lack of original ideas. Mum & Dad could have been a shocking and disturbing exercise; instead, it's just another gorefest, only with better performances than most.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Short Film
* Official Site
* Film London: Microwave