Feb 22, 2009

Mum And Dad [18]

Dir: Steven Sheil
I keep hearing about an impressive new wave of British horror, and then I see the appalling likes of Eden Lake and Donkey Punch getting wide releases, while The Daisy Chain (see last year’s top 10) doesn’t have a release date and Mum and Dad goes straight to DVD.

Made for the frankly astoundingly paltry sum of £100,000 Mum and Dad embraces its technical and budgetary restrictions by using a cast of five, setting almost the entire film in a single house and limiting the use of effects, all while creating the most grindingly intense horror film I’ve seen since Inside (see, again, last year’s top 10). It’s the confined space that does it, Steven Sheil is clerly working on location and there’s a real sense of claustrophobia to every scene, which likely comes from the fact that he’s cramming cast crew and camera into an already small space, but which really works to the film’s benefit, as the atmosphere of this nightmarish place begins to press in on you.

The story and script are simplistic; after missing her last bus home Lena, (Olga Fedori) a cleaner at Heathrow accepts an offer of help from a colleague (Howard), but when she arrives at her new friend’s home she is knocked unconscious, and wakes surrounded by a murderous family, led by Mum (Dido Miles) and Dad (Perry Benson). It seems that her only hope of survival is to join the ‘family’. This is perhaps the film’s big downfall, the dialogue isn’t great and there are no real layers to the story – what we find out as Lena wakes up is about all there is to know.

The script may be slightly weak, but the rest of the film goes quite some way to making up for that. Its first major strength is that, because it strikes so close to home (especially recalling the grisly crimes of Fred and Rosemary West) it’s actually scary, this may not sound like much, but try and remember the last time you saw a horror film that was actually frightening. The performances also out do the screenplay. Olga Fedori is particularly impressive as Lena, she has almost no dialogue because the family regularly give her an injection to paralyse her vocal cords, so she can’t scream, but Fedori’s growing strength and resolve come through well in an excellent and near silent performance. Perry Benson’s explosive rage, and Dido Miles' eerie self-control (until, that is, she wants to ’play’) are two chilling sides of a psychotic coin, and they help make the oppressive atmosphere of the film work, because both seem always on the verge of meting out terrible violence.

As for the violence; there is plenty, and it’s all deeply nasty, seldom more so than when Fedori is stuffed in a suitcase that is then beaten with a mallet, but the gore is used sparingly. What there is, though, is brilliantly realised; severed heads, people nailed to walls, slices down Fedori’s back and scars are just some of the genuinely wince inducing make up effects that must have been produced on a deeply inadequate sounding budget, but which match or even outdo the looks of films that cost several hundred times this picture’s entire budget.

Steven Sheil also works wonders with the budget, finding some genuinely disturbing and extremely well designed shots, never more so than in Fedori’s ‘final girl’ moment. Framed against the sun as she attempts her final getaway she recalls Marilyn Burns’ last moments in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Sheil finds appropriately iconic shots to capture her vengeance.

Mum and Dad is sometimes a bit ragged round the edges, and Steven Sheil would do well to work with someone else’s script next time, but this is a fine advertisement for British horror, doing great things with almost no money and demonstrating that you don’t need gimmicks like 3D, or to ‘re-imagine’ some beloved classic to scare the pants off an audience.

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