Buried in the craziness of ‘Mom and Dad’ is an earnest exploration of parental angst and midlife crises. But that’s just the bonus that comes with the package. The label promises an epidemic causing parents to murder their kids and it delivers on that front with gleeful mordancy. The central conceit has a mysterious signal triggering these wild homicidal tendencies in parents. We are given some sort of scientific explanation in this regard that I won’t get into, but we are eager to see this film make nonsense of God’s charge to have man and woman bear fruit and fill the world.
I guess I’m burying the lede here. Nicolas Cage is in ‘Mom and Dad’ and not only does he play dad, he plays a crazy dad. I’m down for Crazy Nick Cage in bad films but there is a deep satisfaction that comes from seeing him go bonkers in a film so left of field it would elicit a warm smile from Takashi Miike. The general rule of cinema over that last decade or so is that a good to great Cage performance comes round after a dozen bad ones. Cage was last great in the 2013 film ‘Joe’, funny enough, a serious drama about toxic father figures, among other things. If for nothing at all, in ‘Mom and Dad’, we’ll get to revel in a manic Cage bridging the gap between bloodlust and domesticity.
‘Mom and Dad’ is helmed by writer/director Brian Taylor, one-half of the brains behind the Crank series of films, which probably explains why there are hints of restraint in the execution of the film. Maybe if his partner in crime, was on board, we would have had something closer to Miike’s riotously sardonic and unhinged ‘Lesson of the Evil’, which has a demented teacher mow down school kids in the dozens (I’m still ashamed at how much I laughed during that film). The restraint is limited not only in the 80-minute runtime but in the limited graphic violence, much to the disappointment of fans of gore, who will just have to make do with the intermittent adrenaline rushes backed by an infectious electro punk score.
Cage plays Brent, a father of two; a teenage girl and a young boy, and is married to Kendall (Selma Blair). We don’t learn much about their son, Joshua. He plays with toys and is home on what I assume is school day (or maybe not given a certain detail). Our Director doesn’t seem interested in him. Joshua’s older sibling, Carly, is a little more fleshed out. She is at that stage where she’s is dating a guy her father doesn’t approve of and stealing from her mom’s purse – not the most heinous of things, granted. The kids put in a fine shift but they really don’t offer much by way of perspective. Taylor is more interested in the exploration of parenthood disillusionment and its hyperbolic and psychotic pathos.
Cage and Blair are great together, coming across incredibly affecting in the more toned down and intimate moments. Taylor employs flashbacks to give us a better idea of the depths of regret they have fallen into. We see Brent daydream about his wild virile youth rocking and howling around in his slick sports car with a girl’s breasts bouncing in his face but u-oh, cut to the present, to old Brent sighing and safely putting on his seatbelt as he prepares to back out of the driveway to work. Kendall, now a housewife, twerks and winds her waist in some kind of aerobics class to while away her life. She eye rolls her way through the session and proceeds to brunch for a gossiping session with her friend, who is already competing with her own teenage daughter. At least in the day we spend with Kendall, she gets to witness the birth of her sisters’ child then witnesses her sister attempt to break the world record for neonaticide.
‘Mom and Dad’ impresses when it narrows in on the mom and dad of the story, reaching heights of insane hilarity and also achieving a level of depth that makes you question what the point it. What’s the true horror here? The fact that a mother leaves her baby on the railway to be crushed by hurtling train or the levels of oblivion that accompany the realisation of the mundane existence of 40-year old parents. There are times ‘Mom and Dad’ definitely convinces you of the latter in such a matter of fact matter.
The stand out sequence in the film sees Taylor take the leash of Cage, having him decimate a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing a nursery rhyme. So satisfying. But then, with the flick of the switch, Cage goes into heartfelt mode as Brent and Kendall bear out their souls and reflect on their unhappiness like it’s simply a painful rite of passage. The moment feels plucked out of a whole different film entirely, in a good way, kind of like Jean Claude Van Damme’s heart-breaking aside in ‘JCVD’. This scene is defiantly the apex of the film and it retreats back into its bonkers tendencies almost immediately, where at this point, Brent and Kendal are actively trying to kill their kids in sequences borrowed from home invasion tropes. The pool table was not enough to vent the rage. Now a kid’s skull will have to suffice.
Taylor creates some interesting visuals and sequences with the central conceit. He infuses this zombie movie vibe with shots of parents massing up behind gates, classrooms windows and the like with a targeted bloodlust. He also milks some jet-black humour from the chaos, my favourite of which involved a facetious Bokeem Woodbine cameo. The film turns up to 11 in the final sequences and Taylor just seems to just have everyone running circles as a marker of how the world went to shite. There really isn’t a deeper meaning to what going on in our director’s mind. No ‘Children of Men’ type beats to leave you in a state of deep thought.
It all seems like a social experiment magnifying man’s most primal instincts to the point it drowns out something we presume is as powerful as a mother’s love for a child. What we are left with is Taylor’s twisted and melancholic affirmation of Darwinism and I’ve got to say; he does have a point.