The concept at the heart of Brian Taylor’s horror satire Mom And Dad is a truly terrifying one. Imagine you’re a kid in the middle of a normal day at school, when a national crisis breaks out because a mysterious transmission is compelling parents to hunt down and slaughter their offspring. Now, on top of that, imagine that your dad is played by Nicolas Cage.
That’s the situation that teenager Carly Ryan (Anne Winters) finds herself in one day, as America’s parents go absolutely doo-lally. Racing home to protect her little brother Josh (Zackary Arthur), Carly has to fend off both her mother Kendall (Selma Blair) and her father Brent (Cage) as they fight tooth and nail and tear their own home apart in a mindless attempt to kill their own kids.
Knowing that Brian Taylor is one half of the filmmaking duo that gave us the Crank movies, you may have some preconceptions that this film doesn’t necessarily meet. It’s fast-moving, utterly deranged stuff, sure, but Taylor understands the weight and terror of the premise and doesn’t just give us a succession of violent setpieces and over-the-top gore.
For instance, it’s not long into the film at all before we find out that something is awry, and Taylor gets some real suspense out of the scene where all the parents show up at school to collect their kids. Desperately reaching through the locked gates, looking concerned and frightened, it’s not quite clear why they’re there, until it suddenly, sickeningly is. The scene that follows is both chaotic and properly scary to watch.
The film pays some lip service to the transmission being a potential terrorist attack, but never gets into its origins, except to draw parallels with the phenomenon of savaging in the animal kingdom. While it’s most definitely exploitative, with much the same jaw-dropping audacity that made the adventures of Chev Chelios stand out, it’s also thoughtful enough to think about the characters and comment on the trials and tribulations of parenthood.
In the case of Mr. and Mrs. Ryan, they’re both fed up before the crisis really begins, having sacrificed their youth to raise their children. Kendall is trying to keep fit and is cruelly let down when she tries to take an open offer to return to work, while Brent is having a full-blown mid-life crisis, fantasising about the days he did donuts in his flash car with young girlfriends and, in one memorable interlude, building a pool table in the basement.
It’s not the smoothest delivery, and the film labours over flashbacks that range from the ironic to the poignant. The backstory is both a strength and a weakness – the film is over in 83 minutes flat, and the flashback structure often proves to be a distraction each time that the action is really getting going. In a less demented film, a midpoint conversation that gets to the nub of the parents’ unhappiness might have had time to breathe, but its sincerity feels a bit lost in this particular film.
On the other side, it’s impressive that Blair gives as good as she gets with Cage as her screen husband. She comes across just as deranged as he does, even though most of the big laughs come from the Cage rage moments, including the big trailer moment involving Brent, a sledgehammer and a hollered rendition of the Hokey Cokey. A late cameo by Lance Henriksen also measures up to the usually peerless insanity, even if the film itself runs out of steam shortly afterwards.
There’s a school of thought that directors either can or can’t control Cage, but Taylor once again channels his more eccentric choices (see Ghost Rider‘s “SCRAPING AT THE DOOR” moment) to his own purposes to great effect, and makes the rest of the film eccentric around him. It’s a little like watching the tonal equivalent of all the Amazonians speaking in Gal Gadot’s accent in Wonder Woman.
Up to the very end, Mom And Dad may be a little too perfunctory to be truly great, but it’s a hell of a fun watch all the same. With a gruesome, well executed premise, it’s got more than enough to make you gasp, but not so over the top or nasty as to keep you from enjoying yourself. And as Cage himself bellows in his biggest moment, that’s what it’s all about.
Mom And Dad is in UK cinemas now.