July 14, 2011

Mum & Dad (2008)

"Mum and Dad, and their 'adopted' children, Birdie & Elbie, work at the airport. The family live off whatever they scavenge from cargo holds, offices and hotels - including a steady stream of transient workers who populate the airport's soulless hub. When Lena, a young Polish office cleaner, is befriended by Birdie, she gets drawn into a nightmarish world of torture, murder and perversity. Imprisoned in a suburban House of Horrors and designated a 'Mummy's Girl', Lena's only options appear to be to become part of the family - and join them in their insanity - or die."

I first watched "Mum & Dad" over two years ago when my local Hollywood Video still existed. Not only was I extremely happy to find a fairly new British horror movie, but I was quite surprised that they even had it. Just before they closed down, I went back and bought myself a copy of "Mum & Dad", and I love it so much that I've watched it over 20 times since.

I'm going to keep this review as spoiler free as I can because you absolutely have to see "Mum & Dad" for yourself. I haven't had my heart pounding so hard from the tension in a horror film ever before, so I'm sure that you will enjoy it too.

Basically, it's a modernised, almost "torture porn" version of "Girly" (1970) mixed with an unhealthy number of nods to the crimes committed by Fred and Rosemary West. At no point during any interviews about this movie, or anywhere on the DVD commentary, did writer/director Steven Sheil admit to using any specific real life murderers as his inspiration, but anyone British will pick up on it immediately. American audiences will notice a lot of similarities to "The People Under the Stairs" (1991) and certain scenes from "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974). Like all horror movies, it's derivative, but "Mum & Dad" has a lot of original touches too so you can't really hold any reworking of existing genre themes against it.

It's amazing that something with such incredible production values was made for as little as £100,000. When I hear people crowing about how successful James Wan's "Insidious" was compared to its budget, it makes me laugh that "Insidious" cost over five times the amount of "Mum & Dad" and wasn't even half as intense. A lot of this has to do with where most of the funding came from. To qualify for a grant from the U.K. National Lottery, you simply have to have something so impressive that it's worth investing in.

As I said, I'm not going to give any spoilers apart from any that are unavoidable through praising this film. Perry Benson as "Dad" is cast completely against type, but it still works. Dido Miles as "Mum" is so psychotically evil that she is also completely different from anything I've seen her in before. I am still blown away by how good these recognisable TV faces are in such a demented horror film. Each of the main characters are memorable in their own way, and that doesn't happen very often. Toby Alexander as the mute "Elbie" doesn't even have a single line of dialogue yet conveys so much emotion with just his expressions. You will probably hate "Birdie", I know I did at first, though that's the point. Ainsley Howard nails her role too.

The acting and character development is just fantastic and way ahead of anything you'd usually find in such a low-budget independent horror movie. The nastiness of the dysfunctional family is so believable that it comes as quite a surprise when you watch the special features on the DVD and discover how nice (and funny) all the actors are in real life. It's like chalk and cheese and that's the sign of real actors. You can never go back to watching amateur handycam dreck after seeing something like this, although I'd advise you to never get involved with any of that crap to begin with.

Of course, the character who stands out the most for me is Lena. I had never really heard of Olga Fedori before though I remember her vaguely from a few episodes of "Eastenders". A quick check of her IMDb profile reveals that she's Ukrainian rather than Polish and is a Harvard Graduate. I think she's lovely and I felt for her character all through the film. The stuff Lena goes through is absolutely awful yet she remains one of the strongest female characters that I've ever seen in a horror movie. She has a lot of inner strength and really doesn't make any of the clich├ęd mistakes which other girls do and that is, of course, another credit to Steven Sheil's writing.

The practical effects are all disgustingly realistic although one gruesome scene near the end could be argued to be little bit too far-fetched due to their inclusion. You'll know exactly what I'm referring to when you see it but, the more I think about it, the more I can see how it could work. I am, of course, talking about a certain "Christmas decoration", so feel free to discuss it in the comments section below.

The make-up, costumes, set dressing, camerawork and, well, just about everything really is all first class, so I have definitely included this in my Video Vault. "Mum & Dad" is something I can bring out just to show my American friends exactly how sick and twisted us Brits really are. I highly recommend this film!

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