Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mum & Dad: Torture and Dismemberment For Shits and Giggles

Country: UK

Released: December 2008
Length: 84 minutes

Director: Steven Sheil

Perry Benson - Dad
Dido Miles - Mum
Olga Fedori - Lena
Ainsley Howard - Birdie
Toby Alexander - Elbie

The opening scene of this movie gives you an idea of what weirdness must surely follow. Polish immigrant Lena has just started a miserable housekeeping job in the London airport, cleaning bathrooms, when she meets a girl named Birdie, who seems a little too enthusiastic about cleaning a toilet that someone has rather grotesquely abused.  Lena and Birdie strike up conversation to pass the time and we also meet Birdie's brother Elbie, who seems to just be hanging around the airport waiting for Birdie to finish work.

When Lena "accidentally" misses her bus to get home, no thanks to Birdie or Elbie, she very reluctantly accepts an offer from Birdie who promises that if Lena will just follow her and Elbie home, which is practically on the airport property it's so close by, their Dad will give her a ride home, no problem. They walk to the house, and enter the house through what turns out to be the door to the kitchen.  Once the three of them get inside the house, Birdie and Elbie promptly disappear, and you know immediately that poor Lena is in for something unpleasant.

What happens to Lena after this point is what you begin to realize has happened to many poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to enter this house, either by force or coercion. There is torture, murder, sexual depravity, cannibalism, and a lot of leftover luggage. And yet, in the morning, they're sitting around a breakfast table in a way that seems almost normal. I say almost because of course, it is far from it. There is a TV on nearby, and you see that it's no morning show, it's hardcore porn. Meanwhile, Elbie is bringing in dripping plastic baggies of what could only be body parts, while Birdie is being asked to hand over the valuables that she has managed to pilfer out of people's belongings at the airport the night before.


Patrice: Well I liked it, but wasn't over the top about it - it was disturbing ,but somehow not completely satisfying to me. I guess I was waiting for something really awful that never came.

Kelly: Do you mean a la Hostel? Because the whole thing was pretty awful. Not as in a bad movie, but the things taking place in the story were awful

Patrice: Yeah, I suppose that in this type of subject area, I wanted the awful to be more visible. Because this movie wasn’t about the kind of scare you get from a spooky, supernatural type of horror. This movie is about human horror - people being tortured by other people, rather than ghosts or demons...

Kelly: I can understand where you're coming from. As you watch, you're waiting to see the girl get tortured horrifically. And while she does get cuts and is tormented by the family, nothing too terribly disgusting takes place. I liked the movie, but I can see why it got right at 3.0 stars on Netflix. It's tense and it has its moments, but I've seen more goretastic films.

Patrice: Exactly. Not to be perverse, but I kept thinking they are implying a lot, and showing very little.

Kelly: For me, the most disgusting aspect of the movie is the air of incest. But as the movie progressed, I started to wonder if the children in the movie were biological or perhaps others who had been kidnapped and had fallen prey to Stockholm Syndrome.

Patrice: I didn't remember this until I watched the trailer, and it's only mentioned once at the very beginning, that Birdie and Elbie are adopted. Birdie herself says this as they are sitting outside after they get off work.

Kelly: Yeah, I started to pick up on that, but wasn't too sure until closer to the end and when the bedridden girl is discovered. That actually made me feel better to learn that.

Patrice: I assumed that they had each been kidnapped previously, maybe with their real parents who were killed off. But I wondered why if Birdie and Elbie were allowed to leave the house on a regular basis would they not just run away? But they apparently have nowhere to go, or they've been so warped by their years with Mum and Dad that they really don't know anything else. For all we know, though it is never revealed, they might have been there since they were babies or toddlers. One gets the impression that if not Elbie, then at least Birdie, is a willing participant in the depraved sexual activities of one or both "parents". Also, Birdie seems to enjoy the lifestyle to some degree, or at least the "spoils" of it... but Elbie seemed to me to be constantly... cowering, or cringing somehow.

Kelly: I think we're supposed to pull from the movie that the girl is just as depraved as they are, whereas Elbie is somewhat slow mentally and just sort of goes with it

Patrice: Either that or he was traumatized early on. Might be why he doesn't speak. Lots of possibilities, and yet they make no attempt to explain any of that.

Kelly: In your review notes you mention "murdered tourists." I don't think they murdered tourists or anything like that. The girl stole things from cleaning jobs and the father worked baggage at the airport, where he stole luggage and shipments. That was where all the stuff in the basement came from and all the boxes that were piled around the house.

[We differed on whether or not the “family” regularly lured or forced people into their home for the purpose of torturing them, killing them, eating  them, and then adding the contents of their luggage to the household inventory of loot, or if they were just stealing people's stuff from the airport.]

Patrice: What I found interesting is the way in which the superficial "normality" of this family is introduced after you find out what they are really about upon first being presented in the movie. You see how these people are living as a family unit - Dad has a job and friends, Mum stays home and does the housework, the two teens have chores and try hard to do what they are told. It's so much more disturbing when you realize just how ordinary they must seem when blending in with the outside world, and then you think how you might encounter people like this and never sense what they are up to at home....

Kelly: One thing that I kept trying to figure out is why they kept showing the close-ups of the planes flying over; it seemed every other cut away included a fly-over.

Patrice: Because the sound of airplanes would mask any screaming?  Or because the director grew up living next to the airport?

Kelly: I'm thinking it was to point out how it was happening right underneath so many noses…

Patrice: That no one would likely notice them, despite being near such a large public place.

Kelly: As for the screaming, yeah, I figured as much, but there wasn't that much screaming, so I figured they were trying to use the airplanes as a symbolism of something; a couple of shots of planes is one thing, but it was constant throughout the movie.

Patrice: I didn't notice that they did flyovers until the end when Lena escapes the house. Weird!

Kelly: Oh my, it became a game for me, as I kept trying to guess where the next flyover was going to be placed - there were quite a few of them. I was looking for a pattern, but didn't notice anything.

Patrice: I can't find any mention of the flyovers in any other reviews, so I have no idea what the meaning was.

Kelly: So then it wasn't artsy, it was just lots of cuts of airplanes. Guess they just really, really, really wanted us to know they lived near the airport.

Patrice: I think it's just the idea that they are right there, so close to something so ordinary and boring.

Kelly: So, getting back to what they were up to in that house… One of the worst parts of the movie is when Lena gets introduced to Dad. He's pleasuring himself with what looks like someone's liver and then places it on a table, and you see the, um, you know, “stuff,” oozing out.  That was pretty damn gross.

Patrice: I think that single moment might have been the most disgusting thing in the whole movie. But, I'll tell you what else really made me cringe was the scene the morning after Lena’s first night in the house, when Birdie is scrubbing Lena's wounds with a damn loofah! It made me hurt just to watch that! Not that being cut and stabbed with metal rods wouldn’t be painful, too. It’s just that it seemed to add an additional layer of pain…

Kelly: Yeah, that made me cringe as well. Same as when the [biological] daughter upstairs starts to spaz and the wires are cutting into her festering open wounds - that made me turn my nose up. And then how she starts pulling up her skirt when Lena is in the room…

Patrice: Oh, that was sick - you get the impression that after a while they were just conditioned to respond that way...Though such details are never really explored fully, one gets the impression that Mum and Dad have been together for a while and have probably always had this lifestyle.

Kelly: So in reality, there was incest going on, and perhaps the daughter had gotten to a point where she just mentally checked out and wasn't as much fun for dear old Dad to play with...

Patrice: Didn't they say something about the daughter having been born defective?

Kelly: Perhaps, I can't recall…

Patrice: I think she maybe was not all there mentally and probably didn't know wtf was happening to her. One would hope she didn’t anyway.

Patrice: That reminds me that I want to mention briefly some of the other events that we see in the house. They murder Dad's friend who had come by to discuss some business with Dad; it made me wonder if they thought no one would come looking? Or would they just kill anyone who came around looking for that guy? And what about the Christmas day scene? What the hell was that all about?

Kelly: Oh, the guy on the wall! That was just screwed up!

Patrice: …and the messed-up daughter tied into the chair, being all drooly…  just disgusting! Mum and Dad were pretty pleased with themselves, though. And poor Lena does her best to play along and to convince Mum and Dad that she's well worth keeping around, if only to give her more time to think up ways to get the hell out of that house. You root for her to hang in there, even though it seems that she is constantly fucking up, which only leads to more punishment and restraining.  Of course, I think that is the point of it.  The voyeuristic appeal for the viewer, if you will. You find yourself thinking "Oh, no, now you're in trouble - wonder what they'll do to you this time?"

Kelly: I get why they kidnapped Lena, and I get why Dad tortured and killed a girl at the beginning, that's just his hobby, but why did they chop off the guys legs and pin him to the wall?

Patrice: For fun?

Kelly: Yes, they're screwed up in general, but at least the other acts had a purpose, at least to them.

Patrice: I think they took pleasure in the senseless torture and dismemberment for the sake of it.  They brought people home specifically to abuse them and kill them and do unspeakable things to their bodies.

Kelly: Torture and Dismemberment For Shits and Giggles - that should have been the movie title!

Patrice: I like that title! Also, I believe they were eating their victims afterward.

Kelly: Those were the sausages the mother was making at breakfast!

Patrice: BARF.

Kelly: Nom Nom Nom!

Patrice: Ewww…!! That grosses me out more than the depraved sex! Speaking of which, I kept thinking ol' Elbie was gonna hump Lena at some point - I mean, he seemed to be into her enough to rub one out while watching her in her bedroom.  Then again, if he grew up in that household, he'd have a very warped idea of what you're supposed to do with people.

Kelly: He actually wasn't doing that of his own accord, Dad was making him do that, because at one point Elbie stopped, and then Dad slapped him to continue.

Patrice: Okay, then that's much more disgusting... ugh.

Kelly: It’s just a great feel-good family movie!

Patrice: Yeah, right! Okay, there was something else I was gonna say. I kept thinking how gross the house was - so dirty and nasty – smeared walls and such – and then they've got dead bodies and parts of bodies, plus who-knows-what coming out of the daughter that is tied up in that bed upstairs…

Kelly: Febreeze would have done no good in that house.

Also there was this: According to at least one other review, this story line is supposedly “loosely based on the real-life horror story of serial murderers Fred and Rose West, who raped, tortured and murdered their victims, including their own children.” [quoted from Fatally Yours]

Kelly: Oh, damn, well that makes this that much worse. Had I known that going in, it would have put a whole new twist on the movie for me!

Patrice: I just read that today.

Kelly: So, final verdict: I think it’s worth watching. It’s not like a Hostel necessarily, though it has its moments. It’s more the psychological aspect of these normal-looking people who do extraordinarily horrible things to others. They show no remorse, not that they would, because to them this is just par for the course.

Patrice: Right - people who truly take pleasure in other people's pain with no regard for anything apparently. I would recommend it for anyone who likes a psychological thriller BUT isn't squeamish about touchy taboo subjects.

Kelly: Agreed. Good movie. Nasty subject.

Further Reading: If you’re interested in finding out more about Fred and Rose West, and we know you are, then head over to the Biography Channel UK page for the full story. It’s pretty horrible, and it’s real. Somebody needs to make a movie about that charming couple.

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