Mom and Dad Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Vertigo Releasing
Written and directed by Brian Taylor
2017, 83 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 9th March 2018
Nicolas Cage as Brent Ryan
Selma Blair as Kendall Ryan
Anne Winters as Carly Ryan
Zackary Arthur as Josh Ryan
Who can kill a child? Even for a genre that often specializes in breaking boundaries and upsetting all, cinematic infanticide remains the ultimate taboo. Although there is a long history in horror of child murder and abuse, even today, its depiction remains a relative rarity outside of the arthouse and extreme European or Asian cinema. One certainly wouldn't expect it from a modern-era Nicolas Cage movie.
And yet here we are, courtesy of director Brian Taylor, one half of the Neveldine and Taylor who brought us the greatest Jason Statham movie of all time, Crank. When America's population of mommies and daddies are stricken with a mysterious madness which compels them to violently murder their own children, mom Kendall (Selma Blair) and dad Brent (The Cage) are far from immune. Mom is scary enough, but what chance do young Carly and Josh stand against Nicolas Cage going full Nicolas Cage? Dad's a barely restrained powder keg from the start – a cross between Jack Nicholson in The Shining and F is for Family's Bill Burr character.
Cage has stated that Mom and Dad is his favourite of his recent movies, and it shows; this is the best, most unrestrained Nicolas Cage performance in years, his feral dad rages up there with some of his most famous, iconic movie bug-outs. This is the perfect collusion of director and star, allowing Cage to chew (and smash to pieces) the scenery in a manner that fits the film entirely. Fans of Nicolas Cage will not be disappointed.
But, as the title suggests, this is a two-hander, and it's left to Selma Blair to tackle the somewhat meatier, more rounded role of mom, a conflicted personality at odds with her rebellious daughter and resentful husband. While Cage, even in his more tender moments, is a broiling mass of rage, Blair's is a sadder, more nuanced role – the woman who dedicated the best years of her life to her kids, only to now be disrespected and openly rejected by the little brats. But her early good cop routine only makes her turn to Murder Mom all the more disturbing – Cage may have the mania, but Blair is the truly scary one.
The juggling act between scary and manic extends to the rest of the film, which balances black comedy with the most extreme acts of violence. Very little is actually seen when it comes to the central, unavoidable acts of child murder, but you'll feel it; those early scenes of all-out chaos are exhilarating and horrifying, wringing an almost unbearable tension out of its childbirth sequence. The nastiness is carefully judged though, and the vintage 70s-style Euro-horror opening credits lay out the film's cards wonderfully. It's an experimental, arthouse version of a Nicolas Cage straight to DVD movie, taking Taylor's penchant for the bizarre and horrible (see Crank and Gamer, then see them again) and applying it to the horror subgenre. None of the director's signature black comedy is lost in translation, but his approach to narrative and structure almost borders on the experimental. Even the Cage rage is knowingly applied – it's no coincidence that Brent's hardest, most explosive breakdown comes well before the murder virus has entered his system.
And that is the film's secret weapon: more so than whatever compels the parents to start slaughtering their offspring, the real terrors hide in the subtext. For many parents, they'll recognise the sadness and resentment of Brent and Kendall, lives and opportunities passed up in favour of changing nappies and kids stealing from your purse. You might recognise it in your own parents eyes too, and that's probably even worse.
Heavy stuff. Thankfully, Mom and Dad is too funny and far too much fun to get properly bogged down in its implied miseries. It's laugh-out-loud funny, edge-of-your-seat tense, scary and brutal. There's even a late stage cameo from Lance Henriksen which briefly steals the show from Nicolas Cage himself.
It could push the envelope harder, and the ending is deeply frustrating, but otherwise, there's not an ounce of fat on it. Not only is it the best Nicolas Cage movie in years, it's also the best kinda-zombie movie in a while too. An aggressive, transgressive and often shocking genre throwback, it'll fuck you up, Mom and Dad.