Those who worship at the altar of Cage, I come speaking words of comfort. Our Lord and savior St. Nicolas not only nails his role as a psychotic, mind-controlled parent in Brian Taylor’s Mom And Dad, but it’s Cageified madness for the ages. Mental, looney-bin perfection. Every scene. The film itself is a loose midnight riff on child-killin’ genre licks – amusing and frantic – but Cage hasn’t freaked-out this memorably in years, maybe a decade. We’re talking good enough for viral YouTube compilation videos featuring *just* Nic Cage’s unraveling in Mom And Dad, with viral potential rivaling similar vids for Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man remake. Praise be to Cage, hallowed be thy craziness.
In Taylor’s story, an inexplicable force is driving mothers and fathers to kill their children. No explanation, no motivation. It’s like a switch is thrown that turns parents like Brent (Nicolas Cage) and Kendall Ryan (Selma Blair) into natural born killers, leaving kids like Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh (Zackary Arthur) running scared from the ones who’ve protected them all their lives. It’s that simple. Brent and Kendall personifying their darkest parental thoughts of taking their lives back, Carly and Josh trying to avoid death. Welcome to the kidpocalypse.
There’s something so magnificent about a straight-to-it genre watch that wastes zero time on exposition. Taylor has a streamlined vision that runs only about 80-ish minutes, and he’s effective with slashing unnecessary information and then some. Why are kids being stabbed to death by soccer moms and beaten by dads with baseball bats? Who the hell cares? All the set-up material about Carly escaping school and other parents being “infected” before Brent or Kendall breezes through the smallest amount of necessary scene-setting. Then Brent arrives home from work, Kendall waltzing in after. Cue hanger stabs, hoses pumping gas, bashed skulls and the works. Taylor knows the film he’s making – 70s grindhouse intro sequence and all – and sticks to his goods.
That said, as depraved as this sounds, Mom And Dad takes it a bit easy on kiddie deaths. I KNOW HOW THIS SOUNDS, but an early sequence on Carly’s high school football field cuts away from all the carnal, down-marker-impalement kills. It’s damn fun – don’t misinterpret – but for a movie that’s billed as a free-for-all child extermination, Taylor plays it surprisingly safe. Shots of wide-eyed dads pressed against a delivery room window like a buffet awaits inside, yet no follow-up. There’s another precarious situation with a newborn where you’re thinking “OMG, are they going there!!,” only to be
let down relieved yet a bit empty when said child is saved. You’ll have hoot and holler, that’s guaranteed – but dammit, there’s an even more horror-fan-approved version of this film somewhere that has the gall only that 1% of similar films tend to display. Give me THAT cut with a midnight crowd.
Sans ripping a child’s guts out, Taylor taps the same kind of Crank-esque vibe that’s a bit of cinematic anarchy. As adults full-on sprint after fleeing sons and daughters, a dubstep-crunchy soundtrack by Mr. Bill spikes and jostles rhythms as if the infection spreads to musical backing. While Brent and Kendall attempt to brutally murder Carly and Josh, flashbacks to happier times break the morose tone – Cage burning donuts in a parking lot with some shitless girlfriend basically motor-boating him, or life-lessons over a beer. Grandparents – YES, Brent’s own mama (Marilyn Dodds Frank) and papa (Lance Henriksen) arrive for dinner at the perfect climatic moment, adding a conga-line aspect to the hunt. Taylor nails tone and texture so well, which is why we’re able to look past the surprisingly minimal pre-teen death toll.
The other reason? Nicolas Cage. A legend amongst mere mortal character actors. Selma Blair notches a few rage-virus highlights as well, with her lazer-focus on cutting through wooden doors or her underappreciated-mommy-drama attitude that gets all Mansonized. In other words, she can keep up. Lance Henriksen is a welcome addition to the party as well, no shock there. Both young actors spotlight leading chops at a young age, horrified by their parents’ bloodlust and motivated by paranoia. They’re all solid, situationally appropriate roles, but Cage is operating on another planet, or universe – wherever he’s locked into.
Imagine Nicolas Cage playing a family man with a broken soul, so tragic he breaks down in front of Selma Blair by destroying an entire, fully-built pool table with a sledgehammer *while singing The Hokey Pokey* at max volume. His whole performance is Deadfall level bonkers, waving his hands like Elvis and satirizing a white-picket-fence type of dad who’s two-seconds away from snapping. Then the “sickness” hits and he goes no-holds-barred savage in his expressionism like he’s just railed a line of coke and sugar. High stepping around his house for no reason, holding a Sawzall and repeating “IT’S A SAWZALL BECAUSE IT SAWS ALL!” into the camera until you’re crying with laughter. Burned, angry and covered with Fruit Loops. Brian Taylor, thank you for giving us the gift of Cage we so desperately deserve. I, for one, am forever grateful.
In all, Mom And Dad is an ambitious heaping of survival thrills that *might* have been able to push a bit harder (in my eyes), but still pleases as such a premise would. Kids setting Home Alone traps in order to stay alive, parental units thirsting for blood without any rules in place. Come for the threats against a demographic of horror character who are usually off the chopping block in most films, stay for Cage’s “Father Of The Year” spiral into a firey midlife crisis before the assassinating even starts. It’s one for the ages – certainly as far as the legacy of Cage goes.
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