1 Hr., 23 Mins.
Mom and Dad March 11, 2019
n the last scene of Mom and Dad, among Nicolas Cage’s many projects of 2018, the actor sits, sweaty and out of breath, tied to a pole in a basement, next to a glowering Selma Blair. In the movie, Cage and Blair are Brent and Kendall Ryan, high-school sweethearts mid-midlife crises. Sitting across from them are their children, teenage grump Carly and saucer-eyed Josh (Anna Winters and Zackary Arthur), and Carly's boyfriend, Damon (Robert
T. Cunningham). The kids look freaked out; Brent and Kendall have daggers in their eyes. The children are clearly in trouble, but for what? Vying to be untied, Kendall offers an unconvincing variation of an “I love you”; Brent expands with “but sometimes we just want to —”
Of course he’s going to say “kill you," but the screen cuts to black before he can finish. The particular moment is an on-the-nose cork on the movie: for 83 minutes, it works to literalize the “we just want to kill you” part. In Mom and Dad, a cheeky horror movie written and directed by Brian Taylor, dystopia is brought on by a nightmarish, inexplicable phenomenon. Suddenly, parents around the globe, rendered almost zombie-like, are inspired to trade their protective parental instincts for murderous ones.
Akin to savaging — an alarming trend common in domesticated pigs, in which a parent is randomly inspired to kill their young — begetters cannot relax until their offspring are dead. The strange development becomes apparent early in the movie, when Carly’s school is suddenly surrounded, and then turned into a quasi-battlefield, by hungry-looking parents, clamoring for their spawn. An allusion to a visual in World War Z, the zombie movie from 2013, is aptly made. The above-mentioned scene in the basement comes after a long game of cat and mouse.
Most of Mom and Dad is set inside the Ryan home, where Josh, Carly, and Damon move from hiding spot to hiding spot as the elder Ryans plot their deaths. Things are mucked up when Brent’s parents — who had planned on coming over that evening for dinner, before the world turned delirious — arrive.
Taylor is going for carbon-black comedy wrapped up in a 1980s B-movie package. The actors — particularly Cage, who is a cross between Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather (1987) and a particularly punchy Looney-Tune character — diffuse their performances with enough absurdity to clarify that we should try our damndest to embrace the plot. Taylor throws in some dimension to almost intimate that this is all a collective nightmare, a guilt-imbued message from the subconsciousness.
Kendall and Carly have a spiky relationship, mostly brought on by the latter’s habitual going-out and dishonesty about it; Kendall and Brent are constantly fighting, depressed by the ways their lives have become drowned in suburban monotony. In one of the movie’s most heady albeit almost too over-the-top scenes, they fight over Brent’s recent secret purchase of a pool table, which he, in a rage, then smashes with a sledgehammer. During the first act, there is a moment where Kendall is having lunch with a friend, and the latter expounds on her envy of her daughter’s physical perfection, fantasizing about ruining her child’s self-confidence by blurting out the ugly truths of aging.
These brief background checks are, for the most part, effective in a film so one-note — a way for Taylor to follow in the footsteps of other horror directors who have enacted projects with a family-drama lining. But they’re also ultimately flimsy and characterized by cliché. The Kendall-and-Carly spats are little more than Freaky Friday (2003)-esque, scene-long manifestations of the “you’re ruining my life” mantra. Similarly, the marital strife at the center feels spelled out in block letters — a cutout of a pre-divorce-concerned work of fiction you might find in a magazine.
But, of course, Mom and Dad was never supposed to be a gradated portrait of familial tension turned into filmic horror. It was, from the outset, intended to be a feature-length depiction of a “what would you do if your parents tried to kill you?” scenario — something that makes for an intriguing subversion as long as you stop thinking little about the very-real, not-at-all-pulpy horrors of filicide. While I admired the ensemble’s mostly physical commitment to the batty material, I found Mom and Dad more unpleasant than darkly funny. I was grateful, then, for its mercifully incisive running time. Even if Taylor’s unmindful of the narrative’s pitfalls, he at least knows that moving too far past the 80-minute mark would be too much a step in the wrong direction for a movie so cyclical. C+