Studio: Momentum Pictures
Director: Brian Taylor
Writer: Brian Taylor
Producer: Chris Lemole, Tim Zajaros, Brian Taylor
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Olivia Crocicchia, Rachel Melvin, Joe Reitman, Samantha Lemole, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Lance Henriksen
Sudden hysteria compels mothers and fathers to savagely murder their own children, pitting two siblings in a faceoff against their parents.
Brent and Kendall were carefree once. Brent used to do donuts in his dad’s Firebird while the lady in his lap bounced Brent’s face between her bare breasts. Kendall’s equally lax lifestyle of music and mirth still had room for lofty career ambitions.
As it has a habit of doing to anyone with dreams, life got in the way. Specifically, raising two kids in a typical suburban setting as the kind of 9-to-5 yuppies Brent and Kendall flipped middle fingers at in bygone days. Reconciling reality with fantasy is enough to make them want to figuratively murder their angsty teen daughter Carly and young son Joshua.
Brent and Kendall literally get their chance when pandemonium suddenly spreads wherever there are parents. Although sanity otherwise remains intact, an unknown epidemic inexplicably instills instincts among adults everywhere to kill their own kids. If Carly and Joshua thought mom and dad were hard to live with before, wait until they witness how far Brent and Kendall are willing to go to decrease their home’s population by two.
It perplexes me to see so many people praising “Mom and Dad” for being darkly comic, as though that should be the main way to describe its admittedly outrageous atmosphere. Terms used in various major media write-ups include “hilarious lunacy,” “vivid satire,” and “gonzo fun.”
To be certain, intentionally impudent humor pokes at the movie’s periphery. It has to with a controversial premise poised so precariously to make certain segments extremely uncomfortable. But understand that “Mom and Dad” never sacrifices any of its brutal intensity for a laugh. It’s only funny to relieve you of the pressure put on your heart rate in the name of gleefully exploitive entertainment.
I confess I chuckled out loud when Carly’s boyfriend glibly observed, “I used to think my parents getting divorced was the hugest tragedy of my life. But ironically, that sh*t doubled my chance of survival.” “Mom and Dad” definitely sprinkles a little levity around its destructive darkness.
When Kendall’s sister gives birth to a newborn baby, fingernails dig into palm flesh anticipating the awfulness of what could come next. Thankfully, Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” chimes in to inappropriately accompany subsequent commotion, providing permission to air a sigh of relief that suspense shouldn’t be taken with 100% sincerity.
Having said all of that, I still wouldn’t categorize the movie as a black comedy, at least not as its primary genre, even though the film can be frightfully funny at times. It may not tap quite the same vein as “The Conjuring” (review here) or “It” (review here), but “Mom and Dad” is a horror movie first and foremost. As such, it does not under-deliver on terror at all.
For fiction involving parents viciously butchering offspring, “Mom and Dad” tastefully contains its child-killing carnage more than a rational mind might think possible. In the prologue, a mother calmly leaves her child in a vehicle parked on railroad tracks. The camera shows only the child’s mop top, never his face, and cuts to black well before the train hits the car. No one could ask for such a scene to be handled more carefully.
This kind of consideration continues throughout the next 80 minutes. That’s fortunate because once the plot’s plane gets off the ground, which happens rapidly, the film’s frenetic frenzy hits a peak of harrowing horror. Parents hungrily lunge at progeny of all shapes, ages, and sizes like Black Friday shoppers when Walmart’s doors open. Slaughter stays mostly suggestive, yet is no less wicked about its insinuations as a fistful of car keys stabs a kid’s face out of frame, or crazed adults play “28 Days Later” by scaling fences and breaking down doors. These are slickly sinister sights to behold.
I’m personally not on board with popular culture’s celebratory support of Nicolas Cage’s often over-the-top antics. I don’t care about ironically embracing the absurdity of screaming at a face full of bees. Deliberate or not, hammy acting is bad acting.
But the role of Brent perfectly synchs with the personas Nicolas Cage brings as an onscreen performer and as an offscreen cult icon of unusualness. Cage’s proclivity for overcompensating when riotous rage is required befits the flick’s wild tone. Yet Cage also vents visible irritation without resorting to exuberance in dialed down moments demanding more finesse. “Mom and Dad” might be dismissed by many as lowbrow B-movie fare, a mistake made more unfortunate because it should be included in any conversation concerning Nicolas Cage’s best performances.
Whereas Cage’s fatherly frustration projects outwardly through angry actions, Selma Blair’s maternal misery manifests inwardly via instances of introspection. Yinning Cage’s alpha male yang, Blair sobs sorrowfully to herself, stares quietly with forlorn regret, or musters a mask over increasing awareness that the life she envisioned is not the life she lives.
One might not think a movie molded for midnight madness would have so much to say about complicated parent-child relationships or troubled transitions into responsible adulthood, but “Mom and Dad” does. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the movie has a heart. However, I would say a stream of earnest emotional resonance flows underneath that any former teenager or parent of one can relate to. Cage and Blair unequivocally keep that battery charged through their reflexively balanced energies.
The only dead fish as far as acting goes involves Robert Cunningham as Carly’s boring boyfriend Damon. Cunningham can’t take all the blame. Nearly everyone else has biting dialogue, a signature scene, or some other opportunity to flash perceptible personality. Damon on the other hand, attaches himself to Carly like a benign tumor, rendered inconsequentially redundant by the story’s end.
Speaking of the end, “Mom and Dad” concludes on a somewhat unsatisfactory note. No one needs an explanation for the outbreak, but a resolution to the fractured family dynamic would be welcome. “Mom and Dad’s” substance is already difficult to discern through the manic mayhem. It’s harder to argue the movie’s meaningful thematic merits when the climax cuts to a title card sting that says, “eh, that’s enough.”
While I’m lodging complaints, I might as well mention how the hysteric pace deflates down the latter half. After showcasing widespread wildness, the plot narrows to focus on the siblings’ personal plight while trapped in a basement. Patiently waiting for gas to knock them unconscious doesn’t make for a particularly exciting scenario considering what came before.
Also, the film occasionally cuts to flashbacks whose inclusions seem strange. They are either sweet or odd character moments, though they have trouble connecting back to current events, other than as jarring juxtapositions of life before versus life now. Maybe that’s all writer/director Brian Taylor intends.
Whatever he means with those moments, Taylor hits the ball squarely on the irreverent entertainment front. “Mom and Dad’s” mean streak isn’t mean-spirited, permitting enjoyment in spite of the subject matter. A simple synopsis should serve as ample warning that some viewers may wish to proceed with caution, or not at all, or at least check sensitivities at the door. Bear in mind that no matter what you’ve heard, horror supersedes humor, and “Mom and Dad” is a better movie for it.
Review Score: 75