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Mum and Dad: Insanity of Family

May 19, 2012

Growing up in my house, there was a code that we lived by, “What we say in this house, stays in this house.”  This code ignited in my imagination visions of debauchery and horror; what, I wondered, is locked in secrecy inside other people’s homes?  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Amityville Horror, and An American Crime each feature houses filled with horror; the neglectful mother of Elm Street, the murderous father of Amity, and the sick, abusive mother of Crime all betray the sacred trust of the young and innocent child. It is the great crime of human nature, preying on the child’s want of love and kindness.

Steven Shiel’s Mum and Dad lifts the shroud off of one family’s attempt to maintain the façade just beyond the insanity.  Blue collar working Dad loves his family, Mum derives pleasure from playing with her kids, son Elbie quietly carries out his chores around the house, and daughter Birdie earns her keep cleaning airport urinals and bringing gifts for the family.  And if you were looking on from your bedroom window, it would seem that this family is like any other.

But when Lena, a young Polish immigrant whose broken ties with her own family in an attempt to find her place in the world, follows Birdie inside the house, the façade suddenly shatters with a crushing blow to the back of her head and a vocal chord numbing shot to the throat.  This Mum and Dad is the nightmare, the reason that my own mother’s code has continued to fuel my darker side’s imagination.

Lena wakes up in a dark, filthy room to the shrieking screams of a desperate female.  Mum sits down next to her, attempting to calm her by offering a sympathetic smile and a kind touch.  Dad appears, holding a mallet and covered in blood.  “I’m Mum; he’s Dad,” she says.  Dad is ravenous, ready to pounce, but Mum quickly calms Lena sending Dad back to his prize in the next room.  Mum removes a blade from her bag; as she begins to slice into Lena’s youthful skin, Birdie delivers a tray holding a cup of tea.  The mug reads, “World’s Greatest Mom.”  Mum sends Birdie out, quieting Birdie’s request to play along.

Mum is back to work, hurtling toward ecstasy as blood follows the slicing blade along Lena’s leg.  Birdie pops her head back in, “Dad wants a family meeting.”  Lena is dragged into the next room where Dad masturbates.  The family waits patiently as fat, sweaty, blood soaked dad finishes; he plops the semen covered organ onto the work bench and turns to his family.  And just like any father might do, proceeds to explain the rules of the household to his new daughter.  Do your chores and keep Mum happy, and you will become a member of this household.

The next morning, Birdie awakens Lena, scrubs her sliced and bloodied body with a sponge, and escorts her to the bright, sunny kitchen. Mum is serving breakfast to her family; Dad carries on jubilant conversation while drinking coffee from his mug, “World’s Greatest Dad.”  As Lena, terrified and in pain, takes a bite out of her buttered toast, Elbie is completing his morning chores.  Carrying saran wrapped body parts to the garbage, he carelessly drips blood across the kitchen floor.

Mum and Dad is an intense portrayal of insanity disguised as family.  It is an unapologetic look at the worst kind of depravity.  And for the most of the movie, it is a sickening addition to the horror/torture porn catalogue that continues to grow.  The brutality reaches its peak when Lena tries to alert a visitor of her predicament. While doing the laundry, a lump of bloody teeth roll onto the floor.  She has an idea.  But startled, she throws them into her mouth.  Once the coast is clear, she throws the teeth through the open window hoping to gain some attention.  It doesn’t work, and as punishment, she is zipped up in a suitcase and repeatedly smashed with a wooden mallet.

It is brutal, sickening, and grotesque.  And upon the film’s conclusion, that was my only feeling.  Mum and Dad is a punishing experience. Writer/Director Shiel attempts to contrast the purity of need to maintain the family unit with the dark, destructive needs of the parents.  The kids yearn for their parent’s murderous attention.  But what is brilliant about Mum and Dad is that unlike so many movies within this genre, it repulses because of what the audience imagines is happening.  The horrors are not really on the screen; some are, of course, but most of the sick, nauseous feeling rising from within is coming from the imagination.  So with Mum and Dad, Shiel proves once again that the horror’s we imagine are far worse than those that we are shown.

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