Mum & Dad
Mum & Dad (2008)
★ / ★★★★
Lena (Olga Fedori), a recent immigrant in the UK, works as a janitorial staff in an airport with siblings Birdie (Ainsley Howard) and Elbie (Toby Alexander). While checking out, Birdie claims to have forgotten her cell phone so she hands her personal items to Lena before running back inside. This causes Lena to miss her bus. Birdie feels bad so she invites her new friend to her house which happens to be within walking distance. She says that maybe her mom (Dido Miles) or dad (Perry Benson) can drive Lena home. When Lena enters the house, however, she is knocked unconscious. When she comes to, she finds herself in a bed, voice gone, limbs tied together, and hears screams of pain in the next room.
“Mum & Dad,” written and directed by Steven Sheil, is yet another movie that sadly and frustratingly mistakes horror for torture, but it is not without a few interesting scenes that deserve to be explored further. The family is one twisted, dysfunctional specimen and the picture does a good job in showing their perversions. For example, Mum wants a “little girl” so badly, the reason why Lena is taken against her will, and her way of showing affection is cutting off the skin as if to carve a pumpkin. The manner in which the camera stays very close, almost sickeningly intimate, to the pained reaction of our protagonist as well as the excitement and pleasure Mum feels during the ordeal is a truly horrifying image.
However, the picture seems incapable of holding back images that aren’t necessary, showing us gore for the sake of delivering shock value or generating cheap “scares.” There seems to be a lack of shame in consistently showing us body parts being mutilated. Take the aforementioned scene of the mother inflicting pain on Lena for the first time. I believe that giving us an initial image of what is about to happen and then only focusing on the characters’ reactions is just as effective as blatantly showing us a piece of cylindrical metal being slowly pressed through the fat in Lena’s stomach. What the former has that the latter lacks is the idea of torture. This rather tasteless approach is repeated for the majority of the picture’s running time up until the very end when influences of Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” becomes more pronounced.
I found the “sibling” rivalry between Lena and Birdie to be most entertaining mainly because Howard does a good job portraying a self-gratifying brat who fears she is being replaced by the new girl. I grew to dislike her character so much, when she does finally get her comeuppance, I felt a sense of relief—as if justice had been served somehow. It is a bit of a missed opportunity that the screenplay ignores the fact that Lena and Birdie are both prisoners in the house. Their relationship might have had complexity if they had been given a chance to connect as women, as victims, and as potential survivors.
On the surface level of thrill and suspense, “Mom & Dad” is ultimately deficient. Lena is not given enough chances to fight back or run away—at least not enough when we are completely convinced that she can genuinely make it out of there. With all the torture involving sharp objects, hammers, and the threat of rape, it becomes all too nauseating.