Mom and Dad
A teenage girl and her little brother must survive a wild 24 hours during which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to turn violently on their own kids
My husband and I have two particular commonly-used phrases put into play when we encounter a screaming toddler in a public place, or if we happen upon an arguing – let’s say – mother/daughter duo. (Note: We have no children, nor do we ever plan to do so.)
1) “You should’ve worn a condom”, and
2) “Children ruin lives”.
And while watching Mom and Dad – the new horror/dark comedy from writer/director Brian Taylor – these old go-to sayings naturally flashed into my mind.
The last line of the film is something we’ve probably all heard in our lives – more than likely when we were teenagers (depending on the level of dysfunction in your respective family, of course). Something said by a pissed-off parental unit following some dumb, youthful act which caused some pain, some embarrassment or just ticked off Mom or Dad.
“We love you, but sometimes we just want to…”
That’s not a spoiler, folks. Read the synopsis and you’ll have a clear idea of what this film is all about.
Speaking of synopses, Brent (National Treasure’s Nicolas Cage) and his wife Kendall (Hellboy’s Selma Blair) live a pretty bland life in suburbia. They’ve got a grumpy teenaged daughter named Carly (Anne Winters) and a pre-teen son named Josh (Zackary Arthur). Everything in their lives seems pretty normal, if somewhat paint-by-numbers. But all of that will change, when out of nowhere (and for no apparent reason), parents begin to murder their children. It’s some sort of epidemic, and Carly and Josh must face their parents – in a battle for survival.
Mixing up elements from Romero’s The Crazies, World War Z (which is given an actual nod from a character in the film) Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, The Purge franchise, Invasion of the Body Snatchers – and even the The Stepford Wives (the opening credits made me think of that ‘70s paranoia flick), this awesome film is in a class by itself.
While it has a few problems which we’ll get to shortly, Mom and Dad certainly has a more than decent chance of ending up on my year end “Best of Horror” list.
It’s the darkest of black comedies, but there are a couple of sequences in the film which are downright terrifying – notably a firmly disturbing scene inside of a maternity ward. On that same note, images of patiently staring (and in some cases) sneering parents have quite an impact in the “this makes me very uncomfortable” realm.
In a delicious smorgasbord of quality actors, there are of course some stand-outs.
As “Dad” Brent, Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) has a solid mix of over-the-top cuckoo moments (which he does well) with some very grounded moments as a man in the midst of a believable middle-aged crisis.
Solidly matching him is Selma Blair as “Mom” Kendall. Her “crazy” never goes to the heightened level of cartoonish like Cage’s. What she finds in Kendall’s “affected” personality, is something far more sinister and manipulative. As a regular mother, she’s great, but when she turns on the charms in the film’s third act – you’ll wonder where Blair has been hiding these acting chops. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved plenty of her work, but this is something I’ve not seen before.
The flashback sequence involving Brent constructing a pool table in the family basement – is a perfect combination of engaging dialogue and flawless acting moments from both Blair and Cage. While they’re good all throughout, this entire scene (each actor is provided a lovely monologue with which to shine) is masterfully done. There’s nothing over-the-top about this sequence. It’s just two aging parents, wondering what happened to their youth, and how they ended up in this vanilla suburban world. Good performances from both – but these acting moments in particular, are hypnotically good.
I have to throw out some serious kudos to Anne Winters as older sibling Carly. She’s appropriately bitchy as a rebellious teenager, but when the role calls for it, Winters delivers every single emotion with seemingly effortless power – drumming up fear, sadness, resolve and authentic tears.
What’s most surprising about Mom and Dad, are the many moments of for-real reflections on what your life can become once you hand it over to your offspring. You’re not cool anymore. You don’t have a life. You’re no longer the center of attention. And most of all, you’re getting older.
There’s that “Children ruin lives” thought again. And in a film full of that aforementioned dark humor and some eerie sequences – it’s nice to see such an interesting take on parenthood – and how it changes you forever. There’s no going back, and Mom and Dad doesn’t take that idea lightly. Above all else, it feels like the film is about regret, despite the potential joys of being a parent. Such depth is appreciated, if wholly unexpected.
Some of the stunts were simply harrowing. There’s the scene of someone tripping on a toy truck and then there is the “staircase” sequence. I’ll not give away any secrets, but these were so well choreographed, shot and executed – that there was an audible, “oooooh!” from me as they happened. Such lovely and exciting details as this – make me want to say to the filmmakers, “You really left no stone unturned!”
The score from Mr. Bill was all over the place. And I loved it that way! Tense, goofy, odd. It covered all of the bases, perfectly matching the “everything but the kitchen sink” feeling of the film as a whole.
There are unanswered questions by the film’s conclusion, and that suits me just fine. We never truly know what has set off all of the parents. Similar to the “here’s a theory” explanation for the walking corpses of Night of the Living Dead, Mom and Dad offers up a few light “clues” along the way – but nothing concrete.
But I for one would really like to know what it was that Josh brought into the garage and placed in his father’s Trans-Am. There’s certainly something more to be pulled from that tidbit.
The third act is where things come up a bit short for me. I appreciate coming from an all-out “epidemic” on the outside, to the intimate goings-on for this one family in their home, but this shift also interrupts a bit of the pacing. I see what the filmmakers were going for, but it hits the brakes a bit too much. Something about this change felt off to me.
As I always say, if I am pulled out of a film’s story, especially when I’m so completely engaged – then something is wrong.
Lance Henriksen appears late in the film as Brent’s father. Just like the characters do, you’ll forget that Brent’s parents were scheduled for dinner later in the evening. Upon their arrival, there’s a fascinating (I was nodding my head with ultimate appreciation) chase sequence with three generations of this family’s men. There’s something so powerful about these moments, that all I can say is, “Well done!”
Finally… perhaps I missed it somewhere in the film, but why was Josh (as well as the housekeeper’s kid) home on a school day? A little plot hole, but nothing unforgivable.
Bottom line here – to circle back to my “Should’ve worn a condom” comment – no kids, no murderous impulses. Lives were certainly ruined in Mom and Dad – because of kids. It’s as simple as that.
With the darkest of comedy and the deepest of thought-provoking ideas, Mom and Dad is expertly performed, beautifully shot and breathlessly memorable. Despite a few minor missteps, this film is a clear winner.
Mom and Dad is now available on various VOD outlets and on DVD/Bluray.