It’s hard not to get excited for a movie directed by Brian Taylor, one-half of the team that brought us Crank and starring Nic Cage. That’s putting two very combustible elements together and then pouring rocket fuel all over it. What you don’t expect from this symphony of chaos is Selma Blair outpacing Cage in terms of sheer menace and derangement – that’s high praise.
Synopsis: “A teenage girl and her little brother must survive a wild 24 hours during which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to turn violently on their own kids.”
This is director Brian Taylor’s first solo venture having previously teamed with Mark Neveldine on Crank, Crank 2, Gamer and the second Ghost Rider movie (also starring Nic Cage as a madman) and it is easy to see how Taylor’s voice still makes a distinct impression. A lot of people write films like Crank or Gamer off as ADD-riddled, post-MTV, mindless cinema – but that is a gross over-simplification and simple movie snobbery of the highest caliber. Taylor’s execution may not be for everybody, but his is an undeniably singular voice and creatively unlike most other filmmakers out there (probably why critics have a hard time with it). Never is that more evident than in his latest work – Mom and Dad. That familiar frenetic energy common to Taylor’s work is used to great effect here. As Josh and Carly’s parents become overtaken with the unrelenting urge to kill them, the audience vicariously experience both the rage and the terror in how Taylor not only captures the action with eccentric camera movements and highly stylized editing, but also in the claustrophobic framing of these shots. The traditionally over-sized, suburban tract home becomes a rat maze with a murderous parent behind every corner.
Where the film diverges from the adrenaline-fueled rampage viewers expect/relish/delight in is with Taylor’s especially tender and grounded moments of warm n’ fuzzy parental joy. These moments aren’t the Disney-safe slices of manufactured life; they actually feel authentic to the suburban family experience. The sharp juxtaposition of these flashbacks with a mid-moment break in some of the more emotionally and viscerally jarring action sequences captures the characters’ conflicted nature. These filicidal parents are a real threat, but these kids are torn between their instinctual nature to survive and loyalty/admiration/affection towards their parents. By using these flashbacks as interruptions to the violence, it creates an added layer of tension and allows the audience to more thoroughly experience the kids’ extremely confusing headspace.
To no one’s surprise, Nicolas Cage is very proficient at playing a psychotically rage-infused murder machine, but even by his standards this performance in Mom and Dad is truly a Nic Cage maniac magnum opus. Cage taps into something more feral and primal than ever before, both in his “infected” moments and also as Brent Ryan/normal dad. In his non-infected moments, Cage captures the “used to be cool dad” sense of longing and regret with his special brand of enigmatic charm. You can see the push and pull of him wanting to be a good father, but also having a hard time letting go of that punk-rock, wild-child he used to be (which of course feeds heavily into his rage when he is infected).
If Cage’s Brent is a raging beast, then Selma Blair’s Kendall is a methodical, slow-burn fury that ends up being more unsettling. As Kendall, Blair portrays the fear and uncertainty of motherhood perfectly which translates into scarily-good murderous intent later on. Of all the characters, her transition is the most shocking as she goes from a woman feeling society’s push of obsolescence on any woman over 30 creeping in on her and funneling it into a level of unparalleled vitriol aimed at her own children. Whereas Cage’s anger comes from his children representing his transition into “boring fatherhood,” Blair’s fury stems from her children’s unappreciative behavior towards sacrifices. She’s no longer valued as a mother and her attempt to re-enter her pre-motherhood life is nipped in the bud – that (plus whatever’s causing parents to murder their kids) is a recipe for all kinds of unpleasantness.
Just like with Taylor’s previous films, it would be very easy to write this one off as trying to shock people for the sake of shocking them, but Mom and Dad actually brings the chaos down to a more earnest place that makes it both more relatable and terrifying as a result. Cage and Blair’s characters aren’t just stock-character parents, they are fallible and flawed. And like all parents, they’re doing their best to put up walls around those flaws so they can raise their kids the best they can. When the hysteria hits, those walls come tumbling down.
Even Carly (the daughter), portrayed by Anne Winters, isn’t the perfect student or the ultimate wild child. She is portrayed as just an average teenager – still figuring out who she is and not some idealized version of what an adult think kids are or should be. In a lesser film, Carly would be some High School Musical Disney Princess of a teen who the audience can’t help but root for because she’s “a good kid.” Taylor challenges the audience’s expectations by making Carly be a realistic petulant teen. Not a archetypical villain or hero, just a kid trying to survive the night – which also adds to the vicarious terror of the experience. The most sympathetic character of the bunch is actually Carly’s boyfriend Damon (Robert Cunningham) who would normally be reserved for fodder in a horror film like this, but is actually the low-key hero of the whole affair, which makes sense when you take into account Taylor’s running theme of “planned obsolescence.” The future isn’t the same old Rockwellian painting of a family we’ve grown accustomed to.
Of course, as this is a Brian Taylor production, Mom and Dad shares a bit of DNA with Crank and Gamer, both in the darkly comic humor infused throughout and the flat-out bizarre action sequences that only he can do so well. Even if all the parent/child stuff is completely unrelatable for you, the distinctly brazen style and execution of the film should be enough to keep any fan of unconventional cinema and straight-up bad ass thriller/action films 100% enthralled and entertained.
Mom and Dad is available now on VoD platforms everywhere so definitely check it out if you’re in the mood for something fresh. Let us know what you thought on Twitttttttaaaaah @Official_FAN