For any parent who has ever had the fleeting thought “I want to murder my kids,” have I got a movie for you. Mom and Dad is the decidedly dark and often quite funny take on the perils of both parenting unruly children—ranging from high-energy rambunctiousness to rebellious daughters doing drugs in the high school bathroom—and the bigger-picture ideas about dreams of adulthood that must take a backseat when kids come into the picture.
Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair play Brent and Kendall Ryan, suburbanites to the core but still struggling to hold onto even a small piece of who they were before the rugrats arrived. Their largely quiet frustrations are elevated considerably when an invisible, unexplained…something…sweeps through their community (and likely the world) pushing parents to murder their children. Not anybody else’s children, just their own. It’s actually quiet unnerving to see groups of rage-filled parents standing around letting other kids pass by, while they wait for their own kids to leave school. In a particularly wicked version of this, a group of new fathers stand on one side of observation glass in a maternity ward while swaddled newborns lay asleep in a nursery.
It’s established early on that the Ryan’s children—older teen Carly (Anne Winters) and younger boy Josh (Zackary Arthur)—can be troublesome, but there seems to be the requisite love among the family. But writer-director Brian Taylor is eager to get to the insanity as early as possible, so the ramp up to having all parents attempting to wipe out their kids happens rather quickly. (Until now, Taylor was one half of a high-energy directing team with Mark Neveldine, with whom he made the Crank films and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. If you want some sense of Taylor’s solo work, take a look at the fantastic SyFy series “Happy!,” of which he has directed the majority of the episodes)
Needless to say, “crazy” is Cage’s wheelhouse, and the filmmaker doesn’t ask him to hold back. If you’ve ever wanted to see Cage sing “The Hokey Pokey” while smashing a pool table with a sledgehammer, Mom and Dad is your ticket (and that moment happens before the murderous condition sets in). The entire film takes place over a single day, and the movie rarely stops to take a breath or reflect on what’s going on. To its benefit, no real explanation is given for the wave of violent tendencies. And once the killings start, the film becomes a very bloody and scary affair, even with copious laughs peppered throughout.
While Cage brings the crazy, Blair adds a much-appreciated layer of soul to the proceedings. Even when she’s attempting to bludgeon her children with a meat tenderizer, you can tell she’s fighting the urge to a degree. There’s a particularly inspired late-film appearance by the legendary Lance Henriksen, and low-level commentary about the fractured facade of the seemingly perfect American family. But Mom and Dad’s strengths are in its cleverly staged and executed action sequences, and a few ingenious moments in which we truly understand the scale and scope of this plague. There are many people in the world who collect wacky Nicolas Cage performances, and certainly this one hits all the right notes. It also happens to be a serviceable horror film that is smart and funny as well.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at Facets Cinematheque.