Director – Brian Taylor
Starring – Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Olivia Crocicchia, Brionne Davis, Lance Henriksen
Words: Nathan Scatcherd
There are fewer things in cinema more wonderful – more at once mystifying and mesmerising – than Nicolas Cage in full-on freakout mode.
Mom and Dad continues this proud tradition of Cage Rage with the story of an unexplained phenomena which drives parents into homicidal rages against their children; Cage and Selma Blair are the parents who turn on their little angels (Anne Winters as the standard spoilt, ungrateful teen and Zackary Arthur as the young moppet son), in a film which has all the makings of a transgressive, pitch black comedy satire.
Unfortunately, the film ultimately undoes itself with a very uncertain tone, shakily trying to balance laughs and terror and not entirely succeeding with either.
Mom and Dad is a film which on one hand, stages a chilling scene of a father in a zombie-like state attacking his own terrified son with a broken bottle, and on the other, features Nic Cage howling the hokey cokey while smashing up a pool table with a sledgehammer. One scene, of a mother who has just given birth and immediately succumbs to the filicidal impulse, promptly attempting to kill her newborn child, would be utterly horrifying if it wasn’t scored with a ‘jokey’ ironic pop song totally undermining the tension.
The film just can’t resist diluting such moments with cheap, lazy nudges at the audience, as though it wants to lean into the fundamental nastiness of its plot but also wants to hammer home the joke (at a couple of points, the film gives up on trusting the audience altogether and outright verbalises its satirical message – the taboo idea of parental duties and responsibilities occasionally giving way to extreme frustration, leading one to perhaps wish their kids had never been born, or that they could just get rid of them permanently).
For every piece of genuinely creepy imagery – such as a crowd of new fathers standing outside a newborn nursery in a hospital, with bloodlust rather than love in their eyes – there is a moment which plays for fairly broad laughs, usually stemming from the Cagemeister himself doing his wonderfully unhinged routine.
In all honesty, he is easily the best part of the film and the whole thing seems to step up a level when he’s onscreen. His titular Dad is interesting in that he actually seems to have a few scews loose before the kid-killing rage overtakes him, and seems to be genuinely enjoying the perverse, violent freedom afforded him by the fact that now he gets to act on the simmering tensions and resentments between himself and his children, suddenly finding those feelings validated as, hey, every other parent out there is doing it too.
Unfortunately, he’s often sidelined so we can follow the children, who are never really given enough personality for us to seriously care about them (at least beyond the base empathy engendered by their horrific situation). Selma Blair is reliably strong as the mother whose bafflement and estrangement from her kids provides at least some semblance of sympathy for her – you know, at least until she starts trying to skewer her daughter with a coat hanger – and once she fully gives in to the craziness, she and Cage becoming a deeply warped double act complimenting each other on the ways they’re coming up with to murder their kids, she really seems to be enjoying herself.
A brief cameo from Lance Henriksen in the film’s third act sets up an interesting dynamic giving way to the film’s most enjoyably gonzo set-piece, a three-generation battle between grandfather, father and son set mostly within the cramped confines of a muscle car, but this is over with far too quickly and ultimately feels like a waste of potential (and Henriksen’s appearance, which could have been a real crowd-pleasing moment among a certain subset of genre movie fans, is spoilt within the film’s opening minutes, during its 70s grindhouse-esque opening credits).
I do however confess to a mildly embarrassing fanboy gasp when a certain comic book writer appeared onscreen, in a cameo as a behavioural expert holding forth on possible reasons for the outbreak of parental rage.
Overall, Mom and Dad suffers from some identity confusion. It can’t decide how tongue in cheek it wants to be, flirting with both genuine nastiness and fairly broad humour in an uneven, unsure way which detrimentally knocks the tone of the whole film. It’s never certain of how to approach its own material, with Taylor’s action-oriented ADD direction – full of lightning quick cuts and a weirdly dated-feeling affectation for dubstep during the film’s ‘intense’ moments – never entirely coalescing with the sense of dread the film shoots for and only occasionally gets right (these fleeting moments of success only further drawing attention to how weirdly disjointed the whole thing is and how limply it hangs together in the end).
Still, it has to be said, it’s always great fun to see Nicolas Cage being, well, Nicolas Cage. ‘You do the hokey cokey and you turn around/that’s what it’s all about’… well said, Nicolas.
Shine on, you fantastic, crazy bastard.
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