Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Perry Benson, Dido Miles, Olga Fedori, Ainsley Howard, Toby Alexander
Directed by Steven Sheil
Distributed by Revolver Entertainment
Sometimes these reviews are hard to write. If I really love something, it’s easy to gush. If I really hate something, it’s easy to spew venom. But when something is just generally decent and well done without being mind-blowing or ground-breaking, it’s sometimes hard to think what more there is to say beyond ‘It’s pretty good’. Which can be frustrating, because a good solid movie deserves more than a few passing words. So, while Mum & Dad is indeed pretty good, there is more to it than just that.
We’ve seen kidnap and torture films by the dozen, and we’ve seen sadistic family movies too. Mum & Dad doesn’t do anything new with either of these archetypes. The story is simple and basic … Lena (Fedori) is a young Polish girl estranged from her family and living on her own outside London. She’s befriended by Birdie (Howard) and Birdie’s silent brother Elbie (Alexander) at her new job in Heathrow Airport. After missing her shuttle home, Birdie offers to have her dad give Lena a ride and the trio tramp to their nearby house where things quickly go bad. Lena is knocked unconscious and awakens tied to a bed and from then on is subjected to various physical and emotional horrors.
What writer/director Sheil does do very well is develop the characters and interpersonal relationships more then we usually see in these types of flicks. We get to see Birdie’s struggle with wanting to be a good daughter and wanting to be her own person … It’s easy to relate to on some level, because most of us go through something similar in our own lives. On the other hand, most of us weren’t trying to earn the love of parents who want us to kidnap and torture people. Elbie is completely silent throughout the whole film, which makes him a bit of an enigma, although Alexander does a very good job of conveying emotions with his bright, haunting eyes.
And of course, there’s Mum (Miles) and Dad (Benson), who share moments of genuine affection among themselves and their “children” between the violent rages and hacking up of bodies. All of the actors really deliver the goods, making these people more than just two-dimensional victims or psychos. It’s great how Benson transcends his jovial looks and really makes Dad a character to be feared, drenched in blood and with a manic gleam in his eye.
From the first long shot of Lena walking down a hallway alone to the final shot of her screaming with anger and triumph, there are few surprises in the story itself. They are all in the play of the characters on each other and the subtle and brilliant performances. The other area that Mum & Dad really delivers in is the sound design. In the extra features, Sheil reveals he grew up right near Heathrow to the constant sounds of the planes landing and taking off… and beyond one or two songs, the entire “score” is the sound of those planes. On the first watch, it was sort of background noise to me, but on repeat I found it grating on me, amping up my feelings of discomfort and irritation. It fits the mood of the film extremely well.
And what about the special features? We get a commentary with Sheil and producer Lisa Trnovski, an interview with the director, a cast and crew Q & A from Frightfest, Sheil’s short film Through a Vulture’s Eye, Film London interviews with cast and crew, a brief behind-the-scenes, and a trailer.
The star of the features was the Film London on set interviews. Each one is a few brief minutes, but they cover everyone from Perry Benson and Steven Sheil to the make up woman, the DP, and the FX guy. It’s a really fascinating look at how they made the film on such a tiny budget (100k pounds). The commentary is interesting, also for it’s insight into the trials and tribulations of low budget filmmaking, although I would have liked to hear a little more of Sheil the writer. He speaks mostly about the aspects of directing the film and not so much about the development of the characters or story. Still, it’s obvious he and Trnovski have a good relationship and the commentary is pretty informative.
Overall, it’s a solid package. The extras are interesting. The movie is well shot, well acted, interesting and at times darkly comedic and cringingly gross. It’s just really well done and worth watching. It may not be raving, but I can say with confidence that Mum & Dad is a very good movie. You should watch it. What more is there to say?
4 out of 5
3 out of 5
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