Thursday, 11 June 2009
Mum and Dad (Steven Sheil, 2008)
Having missed the last bus home, Polish immigrant Lena accepts a co-workers offer to stay over. Once in their house, she is knocked unconscious, drugged and bound. Waking up to a literal house of horrors, Lena is held captive by a family of psychotics: Dad rules with kind words and a meat tenderiser whilst Mum cooks dinner and tortures the children. Labeled a Mummy's Girl, Lena is forced to undergo torture, humiliation and degrading tasks as she is forcefully integrated into the family unit.
One could criticise this film for borrowing heavily from Tobe Hooper's seminal The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and relocating it into the quiet and depressing suburban enclaves of Britain: Dad appears abruptly from behind Lena and knocks her unconscious with what may be a meat tenderiser, the family scavenging from the airport cargo holds and offices, Dad dressing up as a woman (or as Mum, make-up and all) as he prepares to have intercourse with one of his victims, the Christmas decorations made of flesh and bone, the hideous family secret that is kept upstairs (who is wheeled out for the climatic celebrations) and the film's violent conclusion are all shocking moments that recall Hooper's film. This is not to suggest that Sheil's film is not without its own original and horrific content: Lena witnesses and experiences a whole array of appalling moments, including torture by knitting needle, a grotesque masturbation sequence, sadistic sibling rivalry, possible cannibalism and the ever present threat of rape. Where the film succeeds is the plausibility of its abduction premise and its use of the Heathrow airport location - the constant drone of landing/taking off planes functions as a cruel reminder of Lena's origins, plight and her attempts to escape.
As a British film grounded in a British location, the film functions as a perverse Kitchen Sink drama in which the young children are in constant conflict with their elderly parents. Sheil constructs a thoroughly believable domestic setting and atmosphere which only adds to the horror and compounds Lena's increasingly desperate situation. More disturbingly, there are scenes which recall the Fred and Rose West case and function as a reminder to the viewer of the horrors that have taken place behind the close doors of suburbia.