Mom and Dad is the new exploitation horror-thriller from Brian Taylor, one half of the Crank directorial duo Neveldine & Taylor. Disturbing, crude, and humorous, this gory flick is vying to become a new staple of midnight movie rotations.
Mom and Dad takes place in a world in which a strange virus (seemingly transmitted through electronic devices) causes parents to brutally murder their children when coming too close to them.
As this summary suggests, Mom and Dad is a film whose premise promises an unnerving experience of grindhouse brutality. And it does. The violence we are subjected to, in the first third of the film in particular, is deeply unsettling. One of these scenes involves a pregnant woman on the day she is due to give birth (one can connect the narrative dots here on their own, perhaps, without me having to divulge any spoilers).
But the film is also a comedy. A straight comedy, as the directorial and acting choices will prove. The film features insane performances from the likes of Selma Blair, Lance Henriksen, and the inimitable king of cinematic crazy Nicolas Cage.
It also displays the expected editorial frenzy of Taylor, whose camera setups seem to number in the double digits even in simple scenes depicting casual conversation. The opening scene in the family kitchen is the first evidence of this frenetic editing.
At first, this choice of camera and editing flair is overbearing. There is no comparison between before and after the inciting incident. Everything is edited rapidly and the shots are lensed in extremes. While not a surprise to see this from Taylor, whose Crank films are equally frenetic throughout, Mom and Dad could use a change in style after the insanity of the film begins. With the film not starting from a cinematic place of normalcy, the sudden change in the diegetic world has less impact on the audience.
As the film progresses, it becomes evident that the characters are similarly (and detrimentally) constant. The parents in the lead roles (Blair and Cage) begin the film seemingly normal. They have commonplace gripes with their children (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur) and with each other.
This makes sense, as their transformation later requires a contrasting portrait. However, occasional flashbacks depict the parents, particularly Cage, as deranged and aggressive from the get go. Not only are the flashbacks largely inconsequential save for the purpose of setting up sloppy and often immediately-resolved dangling causes, but they also flatten our antagonists.
Although, it is hard not to fall in love with the flashback in which Cage decimates a pool table with a sledgehammer. It is, simply, perfect Cage.
Now, to be fair, Mom and Dad is no earnest attempt to be a horror film or a traditional film at all, for that matter. If anything, it is more likely that the film was made solely to give Cage a platform from which he can go full Cage in an appropriate narrative world.
For this: God bless Brian Taylor.
The film is a crazed rush of depraved entertainment. It is a genuine exploitation thriller with well-timed gore and violent falls (one particular spill involving Robert T. Cunningham’s Damon is filmed and staged expertly and for maximum effectiveness). One cannot fault Taylor for shifting his talent directing action stunts to the world of horror, as it translates wonderfully in terms of pure excitement.
But Taylor also fails to acknowledge tone. Truly; at a TIFF Q&A he commented on not seeing tone as a factor in his films. Unfortunately, tone is the major detracting factor of Mom and Dad.
The film begins with a tongue-in-cheek setup that drips with dramatic irony. Then, it shifts to an act that comes off like a disturbing montage of child murder that lacks humor. When the film shifts back to focusing on Cage and Blair, it returns to this self-aware comedy that was established in the setup.
As a result, the film is not immediately accessible. Of course, a film of this premise is bound to suffer from this regardless. But even a genre audience might balk at the sudden shifts in tone that bifurcate the film into two different, unbalanced emotional realms.
There are other faults with the film, albeit minor ones. For one, the lack of resolution in both the ending and a key subplot involving a character’s sister leaves the audience dangling in a dissatisfying way.
But for what it sets out to be, and with the help of the riotous performances from Cage and Blair, Mom and Dad is a macabre romp through an unimaginably horrible apocalyptic scenario. It is hard to stomach—you are likely to be both nauseous and laughing at the same time—but it is something gloriously over-the-top. Outside of midnight screenings, this film may suffer for its crudeness, but it is all too comfortable in what it is likely to become: the next big cult movie.
Mom and Dad: B-
Mom and Dad had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10, 2017 as part of the Midnight Madness program.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)