FILM REVIEW – MOM AND DAD. With Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Lance Henriksen. Written and directed by Brian Taylor. Rated R for disturbing horror violence, language throughout, some sexual content/nudity and teen drug use. 83 minutes.
Opening in select theaters and on Video on Demand, MOM AND DAD is the sort of darkly satiric horror film that should find an appreciative cult audience. In a tight 83 minutes, writer/director Brian Taylor sets up his absurd premise, and then runs with it, with a delicious twist in the third act. Don’t watch this one with your parents – or your children.
The film opens on the Ryan family. Brent (Nicolas Cage), is the loving father who, we discover, is full of seething resentment over not living up to his dreams. His wife Kendall (Selma Blair), has devoted herself to motherhood and now that her kids are older is frustrated at being unable to go back to work. Their daughter Carly (Anne Winters), is a typical teenager, and her younger brother Josh (Zackary Arthur) is navigating the pre-teen years. In a mainstream film, this family would face some sort of crisis and, perhaps, be strengthened by the experience.
Instead –– without warning and with little explanation –– a seemingly worldwide plague has infected parents with the desire to kill their own children. There are scenes of violence (or its aftermath), but Taylor wisely draws the line at turning this into torture-porn with kids, which would be distasteful beyond belief. Instead, he lets his camera imply what’s going on or could happen, including a horrific scene at a hospital where Kendall’s sister is giving birth.
Carly and her friend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham) gather what’s happening from news reports and go to rescue Josh before her parents get home. At that point, the film focuses on the mad parents trying to act out their violent desires, and the kids trying to stay alive. Flashbacks suggest that it’s not the anger/resentment towards the kids that’s unusual, but removing the normal filters that keep such murderous desires in check.
As the parents, Cage and Blair get to act out, although Cage is mostly given the opportunity to rave and rant. Blair gets the more complex role, showing that it’s not adults vs. the kids, but parents vs. their own offspring. To be fair to Cage, he has a touching scene with Arthur in a flashback where we see the sort of understanding father he was, although a flashback with Blair – where he demolishes a pool table – suggests this was a character ready to snap. Winters, Arthur, and Cunningham hold their own as the potential victims doing what they have to do to stay alive.
It’s not clear at the end whether the madness was a short-term event or something permanent, and the ambiguity of the film’s final line plays off the tension between parents and their kids that exists in even the best of families. Here the dark side gets the chance to run free, and it’s the actions –– not the emotions –– that seem over-the-top. There may be a limited audience for “Mom and Dad,” but those who get it are likely to find its twisted humor much to their liking.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.