It may seem like a long time ago now but I can remember a day when Nicolas Cage was an Oscar-winning actor and, for a brief moment, a box office action hero. Since the ill-advised The Wicker Man remake, Cage has become an Internet meme sensation and B-movie star, the latter of these roles he seems to have openly embraced. Recently though Cage seems to have had some limited success in his role choices, gaining some positive buzz for low-budget exploitation films, Mandy and the recently released Mom and Dad. Co-starting Selma Blair and directed by Brian Taylor, half of the directing duo (Neveldine/Taylor) responsible for the Crank films and one of the Ghost Rider films, Mom and Dad was recently released on Apple Movies and Google Play. A jet black horror comedy, Mom and Dad’s premise of parents driven to murder their children was well-suited to the particular talents of Cage and Taylor.
From its opening credits, Mom and Dad evokes the spirit of low-budget 1970s exploitation and made-for-television films. Cage and Selma Blair are Brent and Kendall Ryan, unhappy middle-aged parents, with a teenage daughter and young son. They both seem resentful of the constraints and missed opportunities that parenthood has placed on their lives. However, when a strange signal is inadvertently broadcast through household televisions and phones, parents are suddenly compelled to murder their own children and the Ryan children find themselves locked in their basement fighting to escape their own ‘Mom and Dad’.
With a wickedly dark premise and its gonzo star, Mom and Dad had a lot of potential to be a fun midnight movie. While it certainly has it moments and is far from being a terrible film, it’s a largely scattered effort hampered by a weak screenplay and Taylor’s ‘kitchen sink approach’ to filmmaking. As a parent who has stepped on his fair share of LEGO pieces and threatened to ‘turn this car a round’ a few times, I was disappointed with how little Mom and Dad’s clunky script had to say about real anxieties around parenting. Characters tell us or explain why they are resentful or unhappy with their lives; it’s not quite expository dialogue but the audience is never shown anything that would lead them to identify with any of the parents in the film. The film’s child and adolescent characters always seem more likeable than the adults and Cage’s characters is inexplicably bonkers long before he’s exposed to the troublesome television signal. This lack of any real insight mostly hampers the film during its slower, quieter moments.
Director Brian Taylor has a frenetic filmmaking style defined by quick edits and frequent flashbacks throughout Mom and Dad that offer little to the film and quickly become distracting. Taylor does give the audience a few fun, manic scenes including the most memorable parent pick-up from school in film history as well as a great twist and cameo appearance from genre actor Lance Henrickson. Yet Mom and Dad’s over-the-top violence never quite hits the stride of classic horror comedies, including the recently released Mayhem. Cage is suitably over-the-top given the film’s premise and chews the surrounding scenery with relish. As much fun as Cage is in Mom and Dad, it’s Selma Blair who gives the stand-out performance, carrying the bulk of the film over its runtime.
Mom and Dad has enough to offer to serve as a good late-night diversion; I laughed out loud a few times and cringed on more than one occasion. Nicholas Cage is hitting a late-career stride as the go-to-actor for exploitative genre fair and seems to be having a fair amount of fun doing it. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad doesn’t have enough to say about the ‘horrors’ of parenting to make it much more than a diversion. While it may be one of those rare films that attracts a cult following among some audiences it’s not likely to be held with the same regard as true horror comedy classics.