Mom And Dad (2017)

JANUARY 15, 2018


After the abysmal Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the Neveldine/Taylor duo both went solo for their next films. Neveldine gave us The Vatican Tapes, which was a pretty bad movie, but Taylor (first name Brian, for the record) struck gold with Mom and Dad, which retains the hyper sensibilities of the pair's other films but with a novel twist: it pretty much all takes place in a suburban home. And it matches Crank for inspired concepts - the plot concerns an epidemic of some sort (details are thankfully left vague, think the original Night of the Living Dead, which offered some theories but never actually came down hard on one explanation) in which parents are compelled to murder their children (but only their own children; they'll just stroll by and act normal around everyone else). Our heroes are a snotty teenage girl and her much younger brother, and the crazed parents are played by Selma Blair and... NICOLAS FRIGGIN CAGE.

Now, anyone familiar with the site knows I'm a staunch defender of Cage, even if his later career choices leave me disappointed, particularly with his genre work (Pay the Ghost, anyone?). But even though it's getting the same kind of lame release as a lot of that junk (VOD with a few theaters) this is vintage Cage, with the sort of performance that reminds me why I love the guy in the first place. Thanks to a few flashbacks, we learn that his character Brent is a bit unhinged even before the virus sets him off, but it's a craziness that any parent can identify with - pent up frustration that his time to have fun and live his life is over. After Blair nags him a bit about a new pool table that he bought (one that's already annoying him due to being slightly unbalanced), he snaps, smashing the brand new table with a mallet while singing "Hokey Pokey", in the middle of a lengthy rant about how much he misses being young and carefree. I saw the film on the tail end of a three day weekend with no daycare, and believe me I totally got where he was coming from.

Don't get me wrong, I love my kid to death and wouldn't hesitate to murder the population of the planet to protect him, but I also wouldn't mind being able to watch a movie of my own liking at home instead of five episodes of Paw Patrol in a row, and I'd love to be able to play my Xbox without him asking to "help" which of course means any progress I make is nil (alas, he's old enough to know when I'm handing him a dead controller and telling him he's one of the NPCs, but not quite able to actually play yet). The only time I really get to have to myself is if I leave the house entirely, which isn't fair to my wife who has the same longing for a bit of her old life and finds it even harder to carve out time for herself due to her more demanding day job. Luckily screenings such as this more or less sync up with his bedtime, making it slightly easier for her while making me feel less guilty, but I'd be lying if I didn't occasionally daydream about moving back home so that we could drop him off at one of his grandmothers' houses on the regular.

While Cage gets the angry outburst version of this frustration, Blair gets the sadder, quieter one, in a monologue that's almost kind of heartbreaking in its warped way. Blair is terrific in the film, making the wise choice to let Cage handle the more showy insanity while she takes a more sardonic approach to the material. It's not that she doesn't feel the same murderous rage, she just contains herself a bit and opts for more manipulative tactics to get closer to her children, providing a great dynamic that goes a long way toward giving the film not only momentum that could easily run out quickly (it'd be tiresome if she was just matching his crazy), but also no clear-cut villain. Yes, they're the "bad guys" in the scenario, and we don't want them to succeed in murdering their offspring - but we're not rooting for their demise, either. And it's kind of cute to see them bonding over their attempts to kill the kids; we quickly get the idea that their marriage is not exactly a perfect one (the vast age difference between son and daughter suggests the younger one was perhaps the result of a last-ditch effort to save the relationship), and thus I can't help but love a movie that is f-ed up enough to showcase two adults rekindling their love during attempted filicide.

For non parents, or for parents who are perfectly content with how everything worked out, the movie should still satisfy you as a pitch-black horror comedy. Taylor is smart not to linger on gory details - in fact, most of the child violence is off-screen entirely, allowing perfectly timed cuts (a train just about to hit a car that a mother parked on the tracks and walked away with the child in the backseat, for example) and sight gags to inform us of the horrible violence that occurred. For example, the family's housekeeper has a daughter, and in one scene we see the woman start eyeing the young girl, looking angrier every time she reappears in frame. We don't see anything happen, but later on she is aggressively mopping the floor and the daughter is nowhere to be seen, so we can pretty sure what happened and where - it's equal parts funny and horrifying, but when spared of the visual, we aren't bummed out by the whole thing, and it saves that kind of tension for our hero family unit. As the daughter is at school when the outbreak occurs (the son seemingly stays home, though he seems to be old enough for 3rd grade?), there's quite a bit of movie that occurs in between that moment and when Cage/Blair start chasing them around their own home, so if we kept seeing on-screen murders we'd be numb to it by the time we got to the characters we care about the most. Not to mention how heartbreaking it is for the little boy, who doesn't understand why his Daddy, who was playing cars and tickling him just a few hours before, is suddenly trying to murder him. The young actor is pretty great, and my heart broke for him every time one of the parents pretended to be OK again, because his face would light up with belief, only for them to shatter the trust again by lunging at him.

But Taylor never loses sight of the black comedy roots, and this is at its most obvious during an all-too-brief appearance by Lance Henriksen as Cage's dad. The otherwise fantastic opening titles (which are a mix of James Bond and giallo) spoil Lance's cameo and pretty much the context as well since they include images of their scenes alongside their name, but it's still pretty hilarious when, an hour into the movie, the doorbell rings and Blair reminds Cage that his parents are coming for dinner. There's no age limit on this virus, so we are then treated to a madcap sequence where Henriksen is trying to murder Cage who is trying to murder his son (with Henriksen having no animosity toward anyone else, of course), with Blair trying to protect Cage while also still trying to kill the kids. It's an inspired bit of casting and a hilarious detour; it's always a delight to see Henriksen showing off his underutilized comic chops (his reaction to seeing his grandson is gold) and seeing Cage divide his time between villain and victim in the same shot is cinematic nirvana, far as I'm concerned.

Obviously the subject matter will be a turnoff for some, and not everyone is as enamored with this kind of sick humor as I am (though it's not really overloaded with it, I should stress - there are maybe five or six bad taste laughs and the rest are fairly benign), so I can see why they aren't going wide release with this one. Maybe at the peak of Cage's star power (the late 90s) it would have done so, not only because audiences were more willing to go along for rides with the man, but society was also less "woke" and the film's sensibilities wouldn't need to be defended. There is an obvious throwback quality to the film, right down to putting the copyright in the main title like they used to back in the '70s, and thankfully the style is evident more in its scripting than direction (i.e. they aren't throwing fake film scratches on it or any of that bullshit). In short, from casting to concept to execution they are seemingly aiming directly at me across the board - basically just a Jim Steinman song short of a perfect movie for me. And it's only 80 minutes! Cherry on top!

What say you?

P.S. I moderated a Q&A with the cast after the film, you can find it here if you want. I was obviously a bit nervous as I've never met Cage and couldn't prepare a lot of questions beforehand as I hadn't seen the movie until just then, but whatever my flaws are were thankfully overshadowed thanks to the guy at the 15:55 mark who... well, just listen and find out for yourself. It's epic.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a cracker but I have to ask, what was the question that got the Cage death stare?


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