2018, Alamo Cinema Massacre, Angry Teenagers, Bad Behavior, Bad Situations, Confused Kids, Contagion, Controverisal Films, Daniel Robichaud, Dark Humor, Family Horror, Horror-Comedies, INSANE Movies, Killers, Lance Henriksen Movies, Nicolas Cage Movies, Psychological Horror, Taboos, Twists and Turns, VIOLENCE!, WTF! Cinema 0
Alamo Cinema Massacre presents:
MOM AND DAD (2017)
Review by Daniel R. Robicaud
Brent (Nicolas Cage) and Kendall Ryan (Selma Blair) are the beleaguered parents of teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters), and young son Josh (Zachary Arthur). Unfortunately, the family unit has been strained in recent days. Carly is running with a bad crowd in school and stealing money to fund her friend, Riley’s (Olivia Crocicchia), love of pills. Dad spends his days asleep at a lousy job, dreaming of his youthful days of abandon when he was a life support system for insatiable sexuality. Mom tries to take each day at a time, using Zumba classes to try and reclaim the sexy zeal of her younger days. Josh has a curiosity about the world, which takes a macabre turn when he tries to save a nearly dead animal only to have it end up just as dead as it would have been. And nobody likes Carly’s boyfriend, who Brent dislikes because he is a year older but might also dislike because he is black and from a poorer part of town.
One day, the world goes mad and despite their best efforts, the Ryan family goes right along with it. The madness takes a unique form and there is no reason for what is happening. It could happen at any time. There is no reason, there is no rationale, there is only the terrible fact: for whatever reason, parents have suddenly become victim to the overwhelming urge to murder their children. In time, Carly and Josh lock themselves in the basement and try to survive their own parents doing whatever they can to murder them in the twisty, hilarious, dark comedy-horror picture MOM AND DAD (2017) from writer/director Brian Taylor.
Within a minute of the movie opening, you know what kind of a ride you are in for. A smiling soccer mom turns up the radio in her minivan, the camera shifts from an extreme close-up to a backseat, where a kid is sitting in his car seat. Mom gets out of the minivan as though she has forgotten something, and the camera pulls back to an exterior shot to show said van on the train tracks. The soccer mom then walks away, smiling to herself, while a train speeds toward her minivan. From that initial moment told in quick cuts, audience members know whether they are on board with this picture and ready to sit in gape-jawed disbelief at the cinematic lunacy, or whether they need to check out. I, for one, stayed on board and have no regrets.
Brian Taylor is half of the writing and directing team responsible for such pictures as CRANK (2006), CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009), GAMER (2009), and GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2011). As his first solo excursion, MOM AND DAD is just as weird, frenetic, funny, and active as any of the pictures I named. The key to Taylor’s style is a lot of cuts. The result is a film that at once feels like it was assembled by someone on the gooooood drugs and also someone with just enough ADD to skip the boring parts in favor of watching as much interesting material as possible, going zipping by at near-light speed.
This is not to say there is neither feeling nor poignancy to the film. As funny and outrageous as portions are, including a chase across the football field where adults attempt to take down, gouge, smash, squish, stomp, and beat the holy hell out of fleeing teenagers that rivals the Japanese film TAG (2015) for bravura, there are also some truly disturbing sequences that hit me on a gut level and refused to release.
Undoubtedly this has to do with being the father of a nine-month-old girl myself. A sequence where a hospital birth goes wildly wrong had me holding my breath and hoping the feature WOULD NOT GO THERE, all the while wondering if it very well might, to numerous almost throw-away scenes (a mother shoving her baby carriage in front of the next passing car, or a line of new fathers glaring with utmost hatred into a hospital nursery, among others) showing just how quickly the world has gone out of its skull had me reflecting on my own roles as father to a daughter, and as a child to my own parents. Such bonds run deep, and the idea of them erased in an instant (only to be replaced with euphoria at the idea of destroying the child) is one that really got under my skin.
And there are moments of poignancy. In addition to the quiet moments between explosions of violence where the audience can catch its breath, there are a few pointed flashbacks showing just how tenuous the family bonds in the Ryan family were before the introduction of the kill-your-kids mania. Those sequences are touching and humorous without being saccharine, which is a challenge for anyone to pull off. When Nicolas Cage expostulates over the need for a man cave in the basement, because he’s unable to stop noticing how old he has gotten with hair growing out of his ears and nose and a job that barely makes ends meet (though the family has a Chinese maid, go figure) or Selma Blair trying to return to a job that told her “you’re always welcome” only to learn that she’s a mom now, therefore unattractive and better suited to “take a couple of classes” instead of working, we can feel the movie’s heart. Its soul, if you will. This is a world that has robbed the family of opportunities. This is a world where the badges of Mom and Dad cannot be taken off, and the responsibility associated with them circle the throat like a noose pulled taut.
From the news clips and brief views into the rest of the world falling down the crazy rabbit hole, this feeling of isolation and disappointment is not individual to the Ryans. And when everyone is given license to take out their frustrations on the easy targets, they leap at the chance. In a brief news segment, a murderous father tries to work up “crocodile tears,” over what he has done. When he seriously tells the camera that the outbreaks of violence are terrible, there is no falsehood to him. And yet, when asked how he feels, his honest admission that he feels great about killing his own offspring is also delivered with pure honesty.
The first half of MOM AND DAD, which shows a wider context is absolutely fantastic. The entire world is coming apart, and the script, direction, cinematography, and editing all work together to show just how unstable it all is, and how easily off the rails it could go. The second half of the picture becomes something of a siege story and the focus zeroes in on this one family instead of the world at large. Carly and Josh lock themselves in the basement, trying to hold out until escape or help manifests, while Brent and Kendall devise ways to waste their kids. At this point, the movie gets a little less fresh, locked into a familiar plot territory, but it still manages a few surprises, including a late arrival of Lance Henriksen, whose name I cheered at when I saw it in the credits and then forgot all about until he showed up on screen. Lance elevates just about everything he is in, and he effortlessly steals scenes here.
Selma Blair is the surprise of the feature. She shows a lot of range with the material, and even though the script is content to hand her a few clichéd motivations and lines to work with, she manages to make them her own.
In fact, an argument can be made that the characters in the picture are often stereotypes, when I expect Taylor was aiming for archetypes. However, the cast plays around in the stereotypes well. Nicolas Cage has a few deliriously unCaged moments, which made me chuckle. As mentioned, Selma Blair does some nice turns as the concerned mom who turns into the idea machine for wasting her kids. Likewise, the supporting cast outside of the siege story delivers some fun, memorable moments.
There are some obvious shout outs to pictures that have come before. The basic scenario is right out of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), THE CRAZIES (1973/2010), or ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) while the world-falling-apart sequences in the first half rival the openings of both the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), as well as the remake (2004), for sheer exhilaration and ingenuity.
MOM AND DAD is the kind of movie that leaves little room for middle ground. It’s a love it/hate it kind of movie. It’s got cult classic written all over it, and since I left the theater rather loving it, I suppose that makes me one of its cultists.
Pardon me, I have to go tuck my daughter in for her afternoon nap.
© Copyright 2018 by Daniel R. Robichaud