Let’s get your first burning question about Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad out of the way before I even summarize it for you: Nicolas Cage goes completely bat-shit bug-nuts fucking hog-wild crazy in this film, and if you’re the kind of person who finds that intriguing and oddly arousing, I’m happy to tell you that you should watch it as soon as you possibly can.
Cage is playing a broad and weird variation on the Homer Simpson archetype: Old, balding, dumbing down, grasping on to whatever kinds of masculine relevance he can find before his kids are too old, and very little is safe from his hyper-active and mega-loud antics. A pool table at first, a saws-all next, and before you know it, him and his wife (Selma Blair) are trying to kill their two children. Yeah, it’s one of those movies, and Taylor, formerly the second half of the Neveldine/Taylor duo who brought us the hyperkinetic punk cinema of the Crank films, seems to be the the perfect directorial pairing for late-stage Cage craziness.
Taylor’s got a similar sensibility to those earlier films here: Lots of hand-held grain and shaky-cam informs the action, in a few fascinating and spectacular scenes of parents trying to kill their children en masse. You see, some bizarro broadcast coming across the network spectrum is psychically activating long-dormant desires in each and every parent it infects, ones that center around those eternal life-ruiners known as offspring, who sap you of your youth and your effort and your money and your dreams in favor of their own little narcissistic shit dreams that they’ll give up inevitably once they bust out a brat. Taylor, at first, seems like he’s looking to create a modern-day zombie film, with a scene of parents storming the football field at a high school evoking modern-day genre classics like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later or the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead, but he’s crafted more of a siege film in the vein of the initial Romero classic, Night of the Living Dead. After spending a good 35 minutes of the film’s 83 minutes out in the world and explaining a few of the kinks (the parents only really want to kill their own children, for instance, and yes, the rules do apply to mothers fresh from giving birth), the film focuses on Cage and Blair’s children, who have retreated to the relative safety of their basement in order to escape certain death.
Blair, frankly, is our emotional hook here, as any and all attempts to develop the children beyond “shitty teenage girl” and “afraid and somewhat morally pure young boy” falter and fail about as hard as a movie can (it’s funny that the daughter’s boyfriend, whom Cage feels uncomfortable around because he’s black, actually is a more compelling protagonist than any and all of the blood-related children in this film) and Cage is buckwild to the point of self-parody, and she puts in interesting and intriguing work. She’s the only one of the parents who, at various points in the film, seems like she might have doubts about what she’s doing, and the movie, to its credit, undermines this at every turn, which reinforces the psychological pull of what horror she’s inflicting And when shit hits the fan with fire and fury later on in the film, there’s a series of oddly touching flashbacks to the parts in their lives in which both leads were good at their duties as parents, which serves to somewhat underline the tragedy underlying all of the fun. And fun it is, though a series of poorly-considered character choices for their Chinese housekeeper fall flat on their face, and the movie decides it wants to end on a pun rather than offering realistic arc resolution for its characters.
Taylor hasn’t lost his sensibility for action comedy nor his propensity to shock, and I’m willing to wager that you’ll find this a better satire of Middle American life than Suburbicon, which glances at similar themes but hasn’t the intellectual or moral rigor to see them through. Keep this one on your radar, if nothing for all of the great Cage between the titles.
Featured image via screen grab. Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus for updates straight from Austin, and recap all our Fantastic Fest 2017 coverage here.