It’s probably safe to say that every parent in existence today, or every one that EVER existed, has had that moment of pause: that split second when dealing with their kids, regardless of what age (ESPECIALLY with teenagers, though), when something’s gone wrong, or something has happened that turned a shit day into an even shittier day, thanks to their ‘little darlings’, and that thought has crossed their mind before they could even stop it:
“I could just KILL this little fucker right now!”
But just suppose…they couldn’t stop the thought? And worse…suppose they ACTED on it?
Enter MOM AND DAD, the dark horror-comedy that takes the cues from the underrated COOTIES – killer zombie kids offing the grownups – and completely flips the script on it. And here’s the best part: MOM is played by SELMA BLAIR (the HELLBOY franchise), and DAD is cast as none other than the “Wildman” himself, NICHOLAS CAGE (of too many things to even start listing here.)
Now, we know Nic, all too well. He’s given a wide range of performances in a variety of films, where he can be brilliantly bugshit in one turn (as he was in both VAMPIRE’S KISS and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED), to the equivalent of driving a flaming car off a cliff acting-wise, screeching insane laughter all the way down, (THE WICKER MAN remake, and the less said about THAT, the better.) But rarely does he get a role where he could meander all over the map, and it wouldn’t matter, because whatever he did would fit the role perfectly. And in the part of frustrated dad Brent Ryan, he gets such a gift, courtesy of writer/director BRIAN TAYLOR, (flying solo here for the first time without partner-in-crime MARK NEVELDINE…yeah, THAT NEVELDINE/TAYLOR, who gave us the bonkers CRANK movies).
You’d expect this to be one of those movies where you find yourself not only embarrassed FOR Nic, but embarrassed to have to watch him do another spectacular crash-and-burn. But, surprise! There is so much more depth and pathos here…more than you might reasonably expect from one of the “CRANK” guys. Yet Taylor delivers, and the big thank-you here for his work comes from both Cage and Blair, who dive right into their crazed parental unit roles like starving beasts of prey.
On an ordinary day in Suburbia, the ordinary Ryan family are dealing with getting their day started, which means getting the kids, sullen daughter Carly (ANNE WINTERS) and rambunctious younger sibling Josh (ZACKARY ARTHUR) up and at ‘em. The interaction between children and parents isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but the actors under Taylor’s sure-footed guidance, mine the scene for small (and not so small) undercurrents of tension. Something is there on this day that seems ready to spring without warning…a coiled menace in the air that’s ready to present itself in some horrific fashion that you can’t quite put your finger on.
And then it happens…
Something – the implication is some kind of dark signal being transmitted over TV screens – takes hold of the parents, and with an almost joyful abandon, they begin slaughtering their own kids all over town, with no warning and no hesitation. The scenes of murderous chaos and carnage – especially at Carly’s school – are beautifully captured by DP DANIEL PEARL (more about him in a moment), and what makes them so remarkable isn’t the amount of gore…but the LACK of it. The deaths that take place are captured in a series of impressionistic cuts and pans – giving the audience just enough visual information to indicate how brutal and random the attacks are, but in a way that allows the imagination to make them seem more blood-drenched than what’s actually on the screen.
Pearl was definitely the right man to help achieve this effect – he lensed the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and hasn’t stopped working since – and employed here, it’s even more effective and disturbing than it was in Tobe Hooper’s watershed classic. Not having to linger on the violence leaves him and Taylor and their actors more opportunities to mine other colors from the scenes that follow, and none of the chances to do so are ever wasted.
As the kids begin to realize what’s happening, Carly teams up with her boyfriend, Damon (ROBERT T. CUNNINGHAM) in a race against time to get back to the Ryan house and grab Josh, before “MOM AND DAD” get home. And that’s where the ‘fun’ REALLY begins.
But what could have been a by-the-numbers B-movie about parents becoming homicidal maniacs becomes something with a lot more depth, thanks to some surprising insights that Taylor’s script gift-wraps for both Cage and Blair. We learn through flashbacks and some deeply affecting monologues, that stuffed down inside both Brent and Kendall Ryan’s ho-hum bedroom community facades, are all of the frustrations and disappointments that every adult feels at their ages; single, married-with-kids or otherwise engaged – the primal scream urge to rage at the dying of not just the light, but the light that once existed within THEMSELVES…the “young, dumb and fulla cum” kids they used to be, subsumed by having to “adult” – take on expected responsibilities as required by societal norms, pick up the mantle of parenthood and do what THEIR parents did with it. Completely disavowing who they were, and having to swallow down the deeply-felt disappointments about who they’ve become.
So it’s brilliant the way the script hints at how this urge to “eat their young” not only isn’t something new, but – as for many parents – was a powderkeg of violent emotions, always sitting just near the surface of their carefully-tended facades. All they ever needed was a catalyst to act on it, and this mysterious, diabolical “signal” is finally their ‘excuse’.
And speaking of that, just when you think that Cage and Blair’s divinely demonic takes on parenthood couldn’t go any more perfectly batshit crazy, there are two striking cameos that take place, and one of them is by a well-known and beloved genre icon. So I spoiled their entrance, but you will STILL be delightfully freaked out when you see who it is! Not the first time that a cameo by a star or two have been THE biggest twist in a movie like this, but it certainly indicates that Taylor is as big a genre fan as the most slavishly devoted fan boy.
Not unlike HAPPY DEATH DAY, MOM AND DAD at its core is not the most original movie down the block, but because of Taylor’s direction and the leave-it-all-on-screen quality performances by a game cast – especially Cage and Blair – it should have horror fans who thought the genre was dead, grinning maniacally from ear-to-ear.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars for MOM AND DAD.