They did it. Someone finally took that psychotic glint in Nicolas Cage’s eye and they built a film around it. Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad, in which parents around the world develop the urge to murder their children, is pure exploitation; from its colourful, 1970s-inspired opening credits, to the provocative nature of the premise. And Nic Cage is the perfect actor to put at the centre of it all. The problem is, he isn’t at the centre for long, and Taylor’s picture doesn’t fully deliver on the demented promise of the schlocky set-up.
Brent Ryan (Cage) is married to Kendall (Selma Blair) raising teenagers Carly and Josh. They’re a regular family, all bickering and simmering resentment underneath a thin veneer of love for one another. Brent is overprotective of Carly in light of her older boyfriend (whom he imagines to be very much like the irresponsible party-animal he used to be), while Kendall struggles to relate to her daughter in the slightest. Most families love one another, but who among us can say that their relations have never driven them crazy? The unlikely phenomenon that strikes during Mom and Dad takes familial frustrations to a devastating end-point.
The ‘fantasy’ the film presents is one that’ll have certain groups up in arms, but Mom and Dad is not particularly gory or graphic. Yes, this is a film about a tidal wave of violence aimed at children, but Taylor keeps most things off-screen, instead having dark fun with the implications of what may be happening out of frame. The on-screen violence we do see is largely perpetrated on the adults, who are at their most menacing and unnerving before the brutality even kicks off, lurking silently outside doors and windows — rather like Hitchcock’s Birds — just waiting for their progeny to appear. It’s a mark of quite how far Taylor has tongue planted firmly in cheek that he mines so many wry, dark laughs out of such a grisly idea.
Taylor instils his film with a dementedly breakneck pace, particularly in the editing style, and the jaunty music by Australian DJ and producer Mr. Bill follows suit. As this sunny suburb’s been infected with violence, so the score is frequently interrupted with jarring bursts of static (which may or may not suggest a cause of the epidemic). Indeed, the whole movie is assembled to keep audiences on their toes, and the effect is whiplash-inducing at times. Two stand-out sequences see a thrilling parental assault on the local high school, while the notion of what might happen in a hospital filled with newborn babies provides by far the most chilling moment. And while the energetic atmosphere is admirable, aside from those sequences, the screenplay lacks a hook in the early stages. Neither the script nor the characters offer much to enthral, and the film feels choppy and muddled. Surprisingly tepid, even.
The atmosphere begins to feel overly manufactured and the frenetic pace gets tiring. The constant cutting and slicing of both music and film soon wears thin, and you’re left with a picture that wants to get your pulses racing but lacks anything for audiences to invest in. It ends up ringing hollow and feeling exhausting. Thank goodness, then, for Nicolas Kim Coppola. As the movie’s second half narrows the focus back down to the Ryan household and stays there, it allows the focal family to run riot, and the film flourishes.
Cage is unhinged brilliance throughout Mom and Dad, arguably turning in the most OTT performance of his career — and that’s saying something. Cage doesn’t just chew scenery, he takes a sledgehammer to it — metaphorically and literally. He’s an actor who’s always had a welcome sense of unpredictability, and that’s used to sublime effect here. You’re never sure at any given point whether he’s going to smile and crack a joke or fly into a rage and start stabbing. And that makes every second of his appearances a giddy delight, even as his character is hateful long before he turns homicidal. Selma Blair is great too, turning in a more human and less caricatured portrait of a mother-turned-killer, but inevitably Cage dominates.
Once the action is confined to the Ryan house (as Carly and Josh must try to evade their parents’ murderous intentions long enough for whatever’s happening to blow over), Mom and Dad becomes what it should have been all along: a whirling dervish of action, violence, and dark humour with the character-work to back it up. Here, again, the film’s crazed editing is evident, but with the focus on the family, it lands more impact. Taylor punctuates the violence with flashbacks to the Ryans in (allegedly) better days, further demonstrating that familial resentment is nothing new to them. In flashback, everyday phrases—“I could kill you!”—take on amusingly sinister overtones. The film’s narrative and sense of pacing continue to bob and weave, and Taylor’s directorial dynamism comes into its own.
Mom and Dad plays as a damning indictment of the American nuclear family; the rotten heart that lies at the centre of every household (or so the film posits) bubbling to the surface in the most extreme way imaginable. Brent and Kendall resent their children for their youth. To them, they represent everything they’re not; their broken dreams and beauty all wrapped up in a package that carries their own more youthful face. A threat to their entire being that must be snuffed out. Bringing that unspeakable taboo impulse to light is what the film dines out on.
It’s all painted with extremely broad strokes, and may not be the shock-fest ‘video nasty’ some predicted, or feared, but don’t be surprised if, by the end, you find that Taylor’s film has bludgeoned you into enjoying it. It might sound crass, and you may not want to, but through the sheer verve of its presentation and the dark wit of its story, you may very well leave a film about parents murdering their children with a smile on your face.
Cast & Crew
writer & director: Brian Taylor.
starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Olivia Crocicchia, Brionne Davis, Samantha Lemole & Lance Henriksen.