This British sickie very much fits the definition of what has come to be termed “Torture Porn.” This means you probably already know if you’ll enjoy it or not. I admire it a fair amount but have some severe reservations.
This 2008 film was made for a reported 100 thousand pounds (equivalent to about $150,000). It was the feature debut of writer-director Steven Sheil, who appears to have (loosely) based his script on the real-life crimes of Fred and Rosemary West, who in 1995 were convicted of torturing and murdering 10 women in their Gloucester, England home.
MUM & DAD was generally well received, but got overshadowed (in the U.S., at least) by the even-nastier (and better) torture fests INSIDE and MARTYRS, both of which appeared around the same time.
Lena is a twentyish Polish immigrant doing janitorial work at London’s Heathrow Airport. Lena strikes up a friendship with her co-worker Birdie, and accepts a ride home with Birdie after missing her bus home. Birdie lives near the airport with her adopted parents and older brother, who also works at Heathrow. All four are total psychopaths whose activities include illicit torture and masturbating with pieces of dead flesh; otherwise, though, they’re a fairly normal English family.
Lena has barely set foot in the house when she’s knocked out. She comes to bound in the basement, where “Mum” pierces and slices her flesh. It seems Mum and her overweight hubbie “Dad” are determined to make Lena a part of the family. Lena herself has no choice in the matter: she can join the family or become one of the corpses littering the house.
Lena is anything but a submissive victim. She tries to arouse Mum’s sympathies while perpetrating tiny rebellions like tossing a ripped-out tooth she finds out a second story window. For this transgression she’s put inside a suitcase and beaten.
But Lena doesn’t give up. She visits an off-limits upper room containing the “Big Sister,” a chained-up woman driven mad by torture. This puts Lena in an appropriate frame of mind for Mum and Dad’s next and grandest atrocity, a psychotic Christmas celebration marked by pornographic gifts and hollowed-out torsos decorated with candles. It’s here that the madness finally comes to a head and everyone gets their just desserts.
You may hate this film, but I don’t think anyone can deny it’s an impressive piece of filmmaking. The direction by Steven Sheil is pointed and smooth, with lighting and sound design that offset the low budget and an impressively sustained atmosphere of comedic hysteria. As for the bloodletting, it’s undeniably strong yet handled, believe it or not, with surprising economy (proving that oftentimes less really is more). Sheil also elicits excellent performances from his entire cast, particularly Perry Benson and Dido Miles in the title roles, who perfectly capture both the deceptive normalcy and over-the-top psychosis of their characters.
Where the film falls down is in the script, which even by traditional horror movie standards (for which one admittedly has to be forgiving) is inconsistent and implausible. How is it nobody in authority ever notices that Birdie’s co-workers are always disappearing? Wouldn’t the stench of so many rotting body parts attract attention emanating from a house near a busy airport? And how is it that the family of hardened killers at the film’s center are so profoundly inept at holding onto their latest captive? This is a good film, certainly, but screenwriting doesn’t appear to be among Steven Sheil’s talents.
MUM & DAD
Director: Steven Sheil
Producer: Lisa Trnovski
Screenplay: Steven Sheil
Cinematography: Jonathan Bloom
Editing: Leo Scott
Cast: Perry Benson, Dido Miles, Olga Fedori, Ainsley Howard, Toby Alexander, Micaiah Dring, Mark Devenport, Chris Roebuck, Claire Dyer