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Mum & Dad
cast: Dido Miles, Olga Fedori, Toby Alexander, and Ainsley Howard

writer and director: Steven Sheil

84 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Immigrant worker Lena (Olga Fedori) is employed as a cleaner at Heathrow airport. Befriended by co-worker Birdie (Ainsley Howard) when she misses the bus home, she is invited back so that she can meet Birdie's parents and be given a lift...

Mum & Dad, as director Steven Sheil testifies in the interviews accompanying his work on this disc, is a production which consciously draws on the sleazier tradition of British horror cinema, such as the films of Pete Walker (House Of Whipcord, Die Screaming Marianne). Sheil also cites other directorial inspirations such as Dario Argento and, specifically, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Add to this a vague but unavoidable echo of the infamous real life Fred and Rosemary West killings, and it's not hard to see what sparked some of the tabloid hostility Mum & Dad faced on its appearance, for it makes for a potentially heady and unpleasant cocktail. This negativity stretched to the home critics. Characteristically contemptuous of horror in any case, it was always going to be problematic bringing such a product to their judgement when a previous generation had so damned films such as Peeping Tom or the Hammer productions.

A film with a tiny budget made over 17 days, Mum & Dad was released simultaneously to cinema, on DVD, and also as a download. Rather unexpectedly, given its garish subject matter it includes the BBC Films ident amongst its credits. But, even when looked at with kinder eye, if Mum & Dad is no unsung masterpiece, it has a glum, literal tone of its own. And as the director says, if nothing else it's a rare, late British horror film with its own proper "fucked up family" centre stage: the eponymous butchering serial killers of the title.

Writer-director Sheil, whose first full-length feature this is, does a respectable enough job. But he's handicapped by a cast whose acting reflects television backgrounds, the literalness of which detracts from a good deal of any anticipated tension. The mounting terror and degradation of unfolding events are never communicated at their ideal pitch due to this flatness. For those expecting any Argento touches given one source of the director's inspiration, Mum & Dad further lacks bravura sequences so essential in lifting scenes out of the ordinary. Actress Fedori, who plays the victim, makes the best job of a film which remains level in tone through out, her Polish accent adding to the sense of alienation experienced by her character. Kidnapped, degraded and eventually forced to fight back, her only alibi in this whole business, apart from her will to live, is Elbie (Toby Alexander), the mute son of the family. It's a potential which remains largely undeveloped. Most damagingly, Perry Benson, who plays Dad, is frequently unconvincing as he threatens malevolently. At times his bespeckled open face resembles less that of a evil patriarch at times than a cheekily perverted Frank Carson.

That's not to say that the film is entirely without its moments: Howard's banality as the duplicitous Birdie is ultimately unnerving despite, or arguably because of, a performance which leaves real emotions largely hidden. Her jealousy and fear for position within such a household are our only keys to her character. One enjoyable touch is given early on, when she brings in tea and biscuits to her raptly mutilating mother, who shortly thereafter asks them to be taken back else she'll "go through the lot." It's black humour which could have been used to effect more frequently in the writing, where chances to satirise British family life, via a cruel and murderous nuclear group seen in the round (despite the ostensible 'son' and 'daughter' being themselves victims of capture) are rarely taken. The result is that we see monsters, but rarely recognisable ones, black shadows of TV's The Royle Family which dance and then disappear, without enough impact.

Sheil's most direct source of inspiration is felt early on, after the necessary build up: the nervous Lena is stunned with a single, sudden blow in a doorway, caught by a brutal figure who strikes from nowhere. It's a moment reminiscent of Leatherface's shocking first appearance back in 1974. Shortly after this, with a more explicit directorial wink, we see that iconic item of the earlier movie, a meat-hook. There's no meat-hook made use of otherwise in the film, but for director Sheil and, he hopes, his alert audience it is enough to know it is there, as it brings on its own implications, both artistically and narratively. Towards the end, too, an extended key scene takes place on Christmas morning. Mum, dad, son, daughter, captive and a disgusting, mute blood relative are gathered round for grisly celebration, whilst their captive's torment is clear.

It's an important moment, one of the film's highlights, and which the direct cites in interview as a twisted recreation of something familiar from his own childhood. But here can also be found a parallel to Hooper's original masterpiece: that of the 'family feast' scene of Texas Chain Saw, occupying a similar narrative position as Sally Hardesty is introduced to the tribe of killers sat around the table. After the festivities Shiel's film has little further to go, although its final image of a single figure in the open after such carnage, again shows his cinematic inspiration. But despite the director's best efforts, Heathrow is a continent away from the killing dens of Texas, both geographically and creatively. Outside of some restaging, there's too little of Hooper's sweaty claustrophobia to be savoured inside Mum & Dad's suburban detached house of horror. Ultimately, Mum & Dad is worth seeing if you are interested in recent developments in home-grown horror, one away from the gothic/ vampire school or the apocalyptic zombie crowd. If it falls short of the 'torture porn' standards set by the likes of Saw and its transatlantic ilk, then some of the weaknesses can be put down to budget and casting shortfalls.

The DVD includes several extras, including a few short interviews with the director, and then director and cast, from Frightfest and Film London, which taken together tend to some repetition. There is also included a short film Through A Vulture Eye, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage and an interesting commentary track with director and producer.
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