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Mum and Dad

Sunday 26 September 2010, by Abla Kandalaft

Mum and Dad - directed by Steven Sheil

Mum, Dad and their offspring, Birdie & Elbie, work at the airport and live off whatever the place throws out; food, cargoes, electronics and transient workers. Enter Lena, a young Polish graduate who has just arrived in Britain and expediently lands a job as a cleaner at the airport to tide her over presumably until she finds something more steady or gives up entirely on recession era Britain altogether. On the job, she befriends teenage girl Birdie and when Lena finds herself stranded at the airport after missing the last bus home, she gratefully accepts Birdie’s offer of a cup of tea at hers. And thus for her first taste of a British home, Lena ends up imprisoned in a world of cannibalism, torture and perversity. Bizarrely she is also designated ’Mummy’s Girl’, and the incongruous moments of affection seem to signal that her only hope of survival is to embrace and become part of the family.

This is Calvaire Ken Loach-style. No one does social realism like the Brits and genre favourite Perry Benson (as Dad) offers a performance just as understated and intense as his efforts in This is England or Somers Town, which offsets and consequently accentuates the extreme, over-the-top rituals the family partakes in as part of their daily routine.

Between uncomfortable scenes of abuse, there are “breather” moments during which Mum, Dad and the kids argue over breakfast in the manner of your average soap. The fact that this average 2.4 kids family’s existence outside their sadistic behaviour is given some screen time is the film’s main strength. It creates a feeling that somewhere, somehow, Mum and the children (the Dad being constantly perverse and cruel) could potentially be likable but the film soon spirals into much more sordid territory and it becomes clear they are nothing short of insane.

The kidnappings, incestuous abuse, sexual overtones and couple dynamic have prompted some critics to comment on the similarities with the Fred and Rose West case, which confers on the film a very grim real-life feel. However, the mundane character and randomness of some of the scenes infuse a dose of dark humour that can easily get viewers to laugh out loud at the outlandishness of it all. This leads me to the climax of the film. The Christmas party scene presents the viewer with your dullish, bloated, run of the mill Christmas evening in front of the telly, Christmas cracker hats askew, Celebrations strewn across the floor with the odd body, human decoration and torture victim dotting the scene, all enhanced by excellent acting and genuine Christmas spirit on the part of the parents. This scene could become a reference and handy illustration of the Christmas Eve from hell.

Looked at in detail, the film is inconsistent; some of the shots are slightly amateurish and some promising ideas emerge without going anywhere. But on the whole, Mum and Dad is a success in terms of the mood, the awkwardness and the horror of what the director is clearly trying to convey.

Dir: Steven Sheil, 2008

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