September 29, 2009
Mum and Dad
Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***
2008 seems to have been the year the British discovered that they, too, could do torture porn a la Hostel and Saw. And maybe do it a tad better in some ways: lower budgets and more primeval plots that are less fussy and set-piece-heavy – and subtler, too. That year saw the release of both the award-winning Eden Lake and the lesser-known Mum & Dad. The latter, released to DVD a few months back, is written and directed by Steven Sheil, whose first full-length film this is (he's made but one eight-minute horror short previously, though he did work as cinematographer on a handful of films). The movie is very well cast with an ensemble of just five major players, three small supporting parts and a few walk-ons.
The set-up is speedy and sharp. Young, loner girl, estranged from her family, is befriended by a pair of brother/sister co-workers at the airport and, when she misses the last bus home, goes with them to their nearby abode, where they live happily, they explain, with mum and dad. Nastiness ensues. About fifteen minutes into this very creepy, alternately obvious and surprising endeavor, my companion turned to me to say, "I hope this isn't just torture, or I won't last it out." Well, it is -- but also proves to be something more than that, and we both lasted it out. By film's end (it's a brisk 84 minutes), Sheil and his cast put us in touch with something deep, dark and primal.
Mum and dad are played quite marvelously by, respectively, Dido Miles (an actress who's done most of her work in Brit TV) and Perry Benson (recently so wonderful in Somers Town and This is England). They manage to be truly frightening, particularly Dad, as well as occasionally funny and unique in their odd hominess and Brit working-class manners.
Sheil continually jerks us one way, then another – This won't be that bad; oh, god, yes it will – before settling in to some relatively smart plot curves and suspense. Brother and sister are nicely limned by Toby Alexander and Ainsley Howard, and the "mark" is played by attractive newcomer Olga Fedori who is very good at keeping us on her side, as she learns how to survive as long as possible. The movie ends with a British family Christmas celebration that is truly a stunner – not because it piles on the blood and gore (there's that, yes) but because it takes a traditional gathering, usually warm and even sacred and, with a simple set-piece and a couple of terrible touches, turns it into horror of the first order.
Posted by cphillips at September 29, 2009 12:30 PM