Starring Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Winters, Lance Henriksen
Directed by Bryan Taylor
Bryan Taylor cranks the violence – and Nic Cage – to 11.
Bryan Taylor’s Mom & Dad is devoid of all pretense. It’s not trying to drive home a point, or serve as some subtle metaphor for the current state of violence in America or the youth of today (it’s there, it’s just not hitting you over the head with it). It knows exactly the type of film it wants to be, and never promises to be anything more than that. The end result is a lean slice of frenetic chaos and violence that delivers laughs and squirms and quiet “Oh holy shit, is he really going to kill that baby?” in equal measure.
The premise is simple: a mysterious signal or virus, seemingly transmitted through static, is causing parents to murder their children. This simplicity is reflected not just in its premise but in how quickly it dives into it. We’re given the bare minimum of introduction to the family: Brent Ryan (Nic Cage) hates his life and longs for a time before his wife and kids, while his his wife Kendall (Selma Blair) laments how she and her daughter Carly (Anne Winters) are no longer close. Their son Josh (Zackary Winters) appears to have a great relationship with his dad, despite the seething rage that bubbles underneath. After the parents in the city start to turn on their children, Carly rushes to save her brother before mom and dad get home and unleash Hell.
Mom & Dad takes a simple concept and cranks it up to 11. Vibes of Detention (review) and The Signal (review) echo throughout, while Taylor’s fevered, hand-held style of direction pulls you into the insanity, giving respite during a few moments of lucidity (though these are equally as insane in their own unique ways). Despite most of the film exhibiting very little restraint (especially during the final half), it only strays into frustrating territory once or twice, an unfortunate victim of the close quarters in which these moments occur. Taylor never spends more time than he needs on these scene, especially those in the film’s violent climax, jumping frantically about as Carly and Josh spend the evening fending off their parents as they leverage everything from a meat tenderizer to the stove’s gas line to get to their children.
A funky synth score flows throughout, serving as an omen for what’s to come. When it does come, it’s replaced by a booming dubstep soundtrack that’s in keeping with the film’s frenzied tone. During the introduction of the film’s conceit, in which a mother stabs her son to death with her car keys, Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” accompanies a mob of parents running down their kids on a school football field as local police to do their best to quell the violence.
Mom & Dad makes liberal use of Nic Cage’s… Cage-iness, allowing his performance to match the intensity of the film in a way that’s not just appropriate, but necessary to sustain the premise; Mom & Dad can almost be seen as a parallel to what Cage is known for. An undercurrent of gleeful madness and intensity pervades the film, made all the more over-the-top by Cage chewing the scenery as if he hasn’t eaten in days. Taylor purposely obfuscates Cage’s mental state to suggest that he’s always been an unhinged psycho, which allows him to just be at peak Cage with the bare minimum of downtime. And Cage doing what Cage does best is always a good thing.
Blair, however, employs a different tack, serving as a grounding element that gives the film just the right amount of pathos before everything goes tits up. She shines throughout, exhibiting a maternal instinct that’s diametrically opposite her husband’s seemingly outright disdain for his family; where she’s caring and, to an extent, a little ignorant of her young daughter’s day-to-day activities, Brent just wants to live the life left behind for a wife and kids. When the mysterious virus takes hold of her, Taylor eases up on the reins and lets her go wild. She peppers her comments with a dry and sarcastic wit that serves as an effective counterpart to Cage’s twisted enthusiasm while simultaneously mirroring it. They’re a perfect on-screen duo, yet Blair is the one who exhibits the real intensity between the two, carrying the emotional weight of the film that slowly yet deliberately evolves into her jamming a knife through a door in an attempt to stab her daughter in the face.
It’s hard to find things to dislike about Mom & Dad. You can nitpick some of the camerawork, and I’ve heard people suggest the film takes a little too long to unleash its premise. As I stated earlier, I’m inclined to agree with the former, but the latter? Bunk. Clocking in at a tight 83-minutes long, the promise of the film’s conceit is rolled out in small yet brutal doses (babies being pushed into traffic is par for the course) before settling in for a flurry of parent-on-child violence. It works you up to it, allowing Cage and Blair to have some (mostly) non-violent fun before unleashing the wolves. Mom & Dad is certainly never boring, consistently fun and funny, and it delivers the promise of its premise in spades.
Bryan Taylor’s Mom & Dad is 83 minutes of unbridled carnage, anchored by over-the-top performances by Nic Cage and Selma Blair, a thumping dubstep soundtrack, and the best use of Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” in history.
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