A great deal of your enjoyment of Mom and Dad will depend on your tolerance for Nicolas Cage. The once venerable actor has been on a slippery slope towards camp in recent years, his performances becoming increasingly unhinged and ridiculous. For some people, this crazy Cage persona has become the raison d’etre to see a film: “How bizarre will this performance be?” For others (myself included) this has been a reason to approach each new Cage vehicle warily.
Unfortunately, from the title of this review, you can probably guess which Cage stars in Mom and Dad.
Writer/director Brian Taylor’s film has an ingenious take on a familiar premise: On a routine day like any other in the suburbs, some kind of signal sends all parents into a killing frenzy. The catch? They only want to murder their own offspring.
From this concept, Taylor spins a yarn of depraved violence that is pure gold. The film opens with a scene of a mother abandoning her baby in an SUV parked on the train tracks, so you know right from the offset that Taylor isn’t messing around. He’s out for blood and the scenes featuring murderous attacks are Mom and Dad at its best. It’s uncomfortable, visceral and well shot (the 70s grindhouse credits alone deserve their own praise). Scenes of seething parents standing on the outside of the school gates, desperately trying to lure their children to their deaths (often successfully) pack a punch, although Taylor wisely weaves humour into the narrative, as well. Markers of domesticity such as meat tenderizers, “cut all” saws, coat hangers and vintage cars all become weapons as parents stalk and try to extinguish their kids.
While news reports on TV make it clear that this unknown phenomenon is occurring on a grand scale, Mom and Dad opt to focus on the Ryan family. Josh (Zackary Arthur) is a ten-year-old prankster while Carly (Anne Winters) is a bitchy, rebellious teenager who steals from MILF-y but dejected mom Kendall (Selma Blair).
And then, in a league of his own, there’s Cage.
The veteran actor plays Brent, a buttoned-up office worker in the midst of a mid-life crisis – in the most Cage-y way possible. Before the outbreak he’s buying pool tables for his man cave in the basement and dodging Kendall’s calls; afterwards, he’s a raging lunatic who always seems to be a beat away from taking a bite out of the scenery. The distinction between Cage and Blair is that Blair knows how to modulate her performance so that the distinction between pre-infection and post is gradual but noticeable. Cage is pretty much off the hook from his first appearance (an early gag plays on the fact that Brent looks capable of murdering Josh well before the disease). There’s nowhere for him to go from there and the performance veers into camp early and often. For some (say, fans of 2006’s The Wicker Man), this may well be enough to sell them on the film. For the rest of us, this means enduring Cage frothing at the mouth and lamenting about the easy accessibility of “ass to mouth and dildo to ass” pornography. It’s a long way from Leaving Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, Cage’s performance isn’t the only problematic aspect of Mom and Dad. Taylor’s script succumbs to the temptation to wax philosophically about the values and importance of family. This isn’t surprising given the film’s title and focus, but it frequently takes the form of ill-advised flashbacks that contribute little of value and brings the action (and therefore the film’s momentum) to a screeching halt. One lengthy scene involving Brent and Kendall confessing all of the ways they thought their lives would be different feels particularly heavy-handed and obvious, and worst of all, it goes on forever. Right when Mom and Dad should be picking up steam and going crazy, these scenes feel like the cinematic equivalent of pumping the brakes.
Thankfully there is plenty of violence and humour. When those elements are in play (such as when Lance Henriksen cameos or pretty much anything involving Blair, the film’s MVP), Mom and Dad works like a charm. When the narrative cuts to a flashback or brings Cage to the forefront, it feels like someone invited their dad to the party. It’s a major buzzkill, man.