Some of you are going to hate this movie.
It’s about as dark as a dark comedy can be. I’m sure more than a few viewers won’t find any humor in a film about a worldwide epidemic that causes parents to suddenly turn on their children and stop at nothing to take them out.
Early on, however, it’s clear writer-director Brian Taylor is going for deep, blood-red satire in the vein of films such as “Parents” and “Heathers,” and we shouldn’t take “Mom and Dad” seriously any more than we should jump on “The Walking Dead” for having scenes where undead parents, spouses and children try to eat their next of kin.
If we were in the drive-in era, this is the kind of movie that would be playing at the drive-in with the highest ratio of smuggled-in beers, smuggled-in customers (via the trunk) and a diverting fistfight or two at the concession stand. It’s a funky, violent, nasty exploitation film, highlighted by a performance of operatic madness by the one and only Nicolas Cage.
Sometimes a onetime A-list actor will phone it in, going through the motions to cash a paycheck. Over the years, Cage has done enough schlocky, B-movie projects to put Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves to shame — but he rarely if ever phones in a performance.
What’s the opposite of phoning it in? Hammering it home? That’s what Cage does in “Mom and Dad.” There is fantastic madness in his portrayal of an underachieving, underappreciated, tired-to-the-bone, suburban husband and dad who is LOSING IT because life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way — and that’s before the virus (or whatever it is) kicks in and he goes truly nuts.
A sequence in which Cage’s Brent tries to build his own pool table in the basement to kick-start a man cave, only to see even that sad dream literally fall apart, is absolutely brilliant.
Anyway. Let’s talk about the killer-parent madness.
Meet the Ryans: Brent (Cage) and his wife Kendall (Selma Blair), parents of the pretty and snarky high school sophomore Carly (Anne Winters) and the mischievous but sweet Joshua (Zachary Arthur), who’s about 8 or 9. They’ve got a nice house and a nice life — but there’s tension and sadness and regret everywhere.
Brent keeps flashing back to his glory days, when he would do donuts in his Trans Am with a topless girl on his lap.
Kendall, who gave up her job to be a stay-at-home mom, spends her days taking workout classes and gossiping with the other bitchy moms, and lamenting the career she never had.
Carly lashes out at her parents, who disapprove of her relationship with Damon (Robert T. Cunningham), who is a year older — and black. (Carly is sure that’s the reason her father won’t let Damon set foot in the house.)
Even little Joshua seems to be stepping up the troublemaking game.
Still. Things aren’t all bad with the Ryans. There’s no doubt they love one another. Perhaps they’ll all get through this rough patch together.
Well, you can throw THAT idea out the window, after some unexplained phenomenon (which seems to come through the TV) infects parents around the world with the urge to kill their kids, by any method available.
What makes “Mom and Dad” even creepier and chilling than a standard zombie movie is the parents don’t turn into frothing-at-the-mouth, dead-eyed, robotic creatures. Yes, they’re monsters obsessed with destroying their own, but Mom and Dad are still conscious beings who talk to one another in loving terms and try to cajole their kids out of hiding places by claiming everything’s OK and they would never hurt them, so come on out!
Much of the second half of “Mom and Dad” plays like a horror movie set in a single house: the Ryans’ house. Carly fiercely protects her younger brother and comes up with some ingenious ways to defend herself from her parents, who are also pretty darn original.
Even if you’ve never heard of a tool called a “Sawzall” (as Brent keeps saying, “It saws all!”), you’ll never be able to forget it after this film. I’m not sure if it’s great product placement, but it sure is … creative product placement.
Momentum Pictures presents a film written and directed by Brian Taylor. Rated R (for disturbing horror violence, language throughout, some sexual content/nudity and teen drug use). Running time: 83 minutes. Opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque and AMC South Barrington, and on demand.