Writer: Brian Taylor
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zachary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Samantha Lemole, Lance Henriksen
Running time: 83mins
What’s the story: Brent (Cage) and Kendall (Blair), both in the grip of mid-life crises, live in a state of increasing resentment with their kids Carly (Winters) and Josh (Arthur). Then, without warning, parents all over the country begin violently turning on their children.
What’s the verdict: Reportedly, Nicolas Cage declared this the most enjoyment he has had making a film in ten years. We’re right there with you Nic. What seemed like another direct-to-rental dud, Mom and Dad is a short, sharp, sensational satirical shock.
American Beauty meets 28 Weeks Later, this is a film for anyone who was ever young. And hates getting old. And resents their kids for rubbing their faces in it.
From the mock-70s primary-coloured, split-screen opening credits with lush acoustic accompaniment, something is clearly askew in suburbia. A one-time bad boy, Cage’s Brent is now a machine parts salesman falling asleep in his office to online porn, and silently screaming at a world that has beat him.
Blair’s Kendall is locked in a joyless routine of Pilates and mid-morning coffee with cougar-ish BFF Jenna (Lemole).
Kendall is fighting a war of attrition with increasingly bratty teen daughter Carly. Brent looks ever-more unhinged every time pre-teen son Josh smart-alecks him.
Like all good zombie/rage movies, tell-tale signs that reality has tilted quietly unfold as background details. A mum parking a car on a train track with kid still inside. Parents eerily gathering outside an SAT exam hall, to the bemusement of Carly’s boyfriend (Cunningham).
Writer/director Taylor is one half of Crank duo Neveldine/Taylor, so when mayhem ignites it goes full dynamite. A school invasion by baying parents is one of the year’s horror set-pieces, reminiscent of Sion Sono’s 2014 “kill the schoolgirls” shocker TAG.
Contender for 2018’s most darkly comic moment is when Kendall’s sister has a baby and develops serious baby blues. Rarely does the line separating good taste from bad blur so audaciously. Not everyone will chuckle. And they probably won’t start when dads stare with silent rage at a ward full of their newborns.
On a presumably modest budget (you can’t imagine backers hurling $100m at a film suggesting kid-killing can help faltering relationships), Taylor impressively mounts a sense that all this is happening at least nationwide. He then gets mum, dad, the kids and the unwelcome boyfriend back in the house for Home Alone-style slapstick. With added injury detail and slippery gore but just as many laughs.
All shot with over lit unease or dark dread by cinematographer Daniel Pearl. Coincidentally, Pearl’s first film was the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, another comedy-horror homerun about a troubled family…
Amidst the filicide, space is made for a well-played flashback as Brent and Kendall rue how their twenty-something ambitions have turned to lawn fertiliser and gravity now sags their bodies.
Blair shifts between maternal and manic with a consummate skill that deserves better exposure than medium profile bit-parts and long-running stints on fluff like Anger Management.
And Cage, oh Nicolas Cage. What joy to see him devour a role that surely operates as meta-commentary on how his own superstar status has slid into direct-to-rental doldrums. Dropping MF-bombs around Josh and (half)jokingly threatening to kill him, Brent is clearly primed to pop before the lunacy erupts. And when the material is right, few actors do barely-checked madness and full-on flip-out as enjoyably as Cage.
As the kids, Winters shifts effectively from brattish to terrorised to resourceful opponent to her parents, while Arthur sidesteps whiny annoyance with his likeable turn. Representing the old school is Lance Henriksen, on board for a killer cameo.
Like Night of the Living Dead, Mom and Dad hints at reasons why all this might be happening, but doesn’t blunt the satire with explanations. Plus, after a rash of killer-kid movies, it’s nice to see parents getting revenge on ingrates who lift cash from their purse or leave toys lying around.
Better than the joyless 2008 Brit horror Mum and Dad, and reminiscent of the 1989 cannibal-comedy Parents, Mom and Dad is the horror film other 2018 shockers must beat.