Generally speaking, horror movies don't scare me anymore. Having watched a plethora of genre films during my 31 years on this crazy little planet, I've become somewhat desensitized to ghosts, jump scares, and gore, a fact which has caused me to question why, exactly, I spend so much of my free time consuming pictures that have absolutely no effect on me whatsoever. Locating a production that can get under my skin is an almost impossible task; were it not for films such as "Inside", "Frontier(s)", and "Eden Lake", my faith in the genre would be at an all time low. To keep my interest from faltering altogether, I've had to rethink my expectations, redefine my definition of horror. These days, shock value goes a very long way with me.
This may help to explain why Steven Sheil's insanely unnerving 2008 horror yarn “Mum & Dad” had such a profound impact on me. It's as abhorrent and unpredictable as they come, drenching its audience in some of the most uncomfortable situations I've encountered in a very long time. If you can sit through this one without visibly squirming in your seat or wincing at the level of on-screen debauchery, chances are you might need to seek professional counseling.
The story revolves around a polish girl named Lena (Olga Fedori), an airport employee who quickly makes friends with a seemingly well-rounded co-worker named Birdie (Ainsley Howard). After missing her ride home, Lena is offered a lift from her new-found friend, who claims that her father can provide the vehicular transportation she desires. However, once our clueless heroine arrives at Birdie’s homestead, she soon realizes that there’s something genuinely unsettling about the girl’s parents. Before you can say “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Lena finds herself an unwilling participant in an extremely dysfunctional family setting.
Filmed on a surprisingly tiny budget of 100,000 pounds, “Mum & Dad” goes for the jugular in a way few pictures do, delivering a barrage of nauseating unpleasantness over the course of its slim 84 minutes. There are times when the films seems almost too eager to gross you out, saturating your tender senses with all sorts of disgustingly inhuman acts, most of which are performed merely for the pleasure of these impossibly twisted parents. Were “The People Under the Stairs” remade for the torture-porn set, it would strongly resemble Sheil’s unwavering descent into shock and awe. If you have a hard time stomaching realistic violence, this isn’t the film for you.
Had the movie been stripped of its graphic depictions of torture and humiliation, it would still succeed on the power of its performances. The titular parental units - Perry Benson and Dido Miles, respectively - are beyond cruel and unusual; the undiluted pleasure they derive from their unspeakable actions was enough to send shivers across this horror veterans’ pasty white skin. Thankfully, Olga Fedori’s smart, unflinching turn as Lena helps deliver the emotional connection needed to make this sort of feature work. After all, what’s the point of watching something as twisted and disturbed as “Mum & Dad” if you can’t relate to the main character? Gore can be fun, but not necessarily when its presented in this fashion.
Unless you consider yourself to be a fan of hardcore horror, there’s a strong possibility that Steven Sheil’s full-length feature debut might be too salty for your enjoyment. Mainstream audiences will surely balk at the extreme nature of the material, even if they’ve familiarized themselves with the "Saw" franchise and its endless supply of second-rate knock-offs. If nothing else, it proves that British productions are on the forefront of the genre, tackling themes and scenarios that other countries wouldn’t dare touch. “Mum & Dad” definitely pushes this type of subgenre in an exciting new direction. Whether or not American audiences will embrace the sickness, of course, remains to be seen.