Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Mom and Dad (2018)

Mom and Dad (2018)

Rated R for disturbing horror violence, language throughout, some sexual content/nudity and teen drug use

Score: 3 out of 5

The first thing to understand about Mom and Dad, a horror-comedy about parents going crazy and killing their kids, is that it was written and directed by Brian Taylor. Best known as one half of the Nelevdine & Taylor team with his longtime collaborator Mark Neveldine, the two of them previously made the Crank films, a duology of unbelievably over-the-top action vehicles starring Jason Statham that can best be described as watching a fourteen-year-old boy play a Grand Theft Auto game with cheat codes turned on. (That, or, in the case of GTA V, a bottomless bank account/Mom's credit card allowing them to buy a thousand dollars' worth of in-game currency with which to get access to all the guns.) Mom and Dad plays very much in the same wheelhouse as those films and others that the two of them made, even if Taylor is working on his own this time. I was able to catch this as part of the Popcorn Frights Film Festival at the O Cinema in Wynwood, Miami, complete with an introduction by the director as the film made its Florida premiere, and really, that's the best possible way in which to watch a movie like this: with a crowd comprised mostly of film geeks and young people who are there to have a blast seeing some ridiculous crap unfold on screen. It's long and oddly-paced, its narrative is disjointed and feels slapped together with Scotch tape and used chewing gum, and it culminates in a massive anticlimax of an ending, but it is wild, crazy, and fun, making the best use of its stars and its setup for a good time.

We never learn precisely what causes all the parents in this movie to murder their sons and daughters, though the news snippets we see allude to several possibilities. Regardless, that's not the important part; what is is that Brent and Kendall Ryan (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair), a married couple in the suburbs with a teenage daughter named Carly and an adolescent son named Josh, go from loving the two of them to relishing the thought of strangling the life out of them, an urge shared by their neighbors in a world that soon goes mad. If the mention of the words "Nicolas Cage" gave you hope that there'd be some quality Cage freak-outs here, then you're in luck, because he steals the damn show raging at his kids and trying to get past all the obstacles they put up to stop him and Mom. I'd argue that this is the real reason why this movie was made: an excuse to have Cage spend an entire film as a villain in full-blown crazy mode, screaming his head off and taking a sledgehammer to a billiards table. I swear, somebody needs to line this guy up to play an Alex Jones-like talk radio host, because he'd be perfect. Selma Blair and the actors playing the kids (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur) are comparatively subdued next to Cage, but still offer up fine performances themselves, whether it's before the shit hits the fan and we're watching Kendall manage her stressful home life, Carly and her best friend fleeing their school, or Josh hiding when he catches the cleaning lady mopping up her daughter's blood in the kitchen. Taylor mines the premise for full, darkly comedic effect, whether he's showing parents storming their kids' school while police try to keep them out, a mother leaving her car on the train tracks with her daughter buckled up in the backseat, or a scene in a maternity ward that thankfully doesn't go in the most tasteless direction I could think of but still winds up provoking a mix of dread and sick laughs the moment you realize what you're about to see.

Of the quieter moments in this film, the best are probably the flashbacks to before Brent and Kendall went crazy, showing not only them bonding with their kids, but all of the little things that the kids did that bothered them, such as stealing money out of Mom's wallet. These scenes do a great job establishing just how frustrating being a parent can be, a love-hate relationship with a younger, dumber version of yourself who can piss you off something fierce but who you wouldn't give up for anything. We see how Brent feels that he gave up on his dreams and is now stuck in a trap, having taken a steep pay cut at his office job and longing to turn the basement into a mancave, while Kendall is considering an affair with the hot guy at her yoga class while her best friend feeds her frustration at her daughter. On a darker level, we see Carly's boyfriend Damon encounter his dad trying to kill him when he gets back to his house -- and from the way it's framed, it looks like a classic case of a drunken, abusive father taking out his rage on his son, with the implication that this isn't the first time Damon has faced this. The scariest thing about the virus, signal, or whatever caused all the mayhem on screen isn't that it turned the parents into completely different people, which it didn't. Rather, it took all their hatred of their kids that already existed and channeled it, while simply switching off their parental instinct to protect them and replacing it with an equally powerful desire to get back at them for it all.

Finding these great moments, unfortunately, is difficult given how the film constantly skitters all over the place over the course of its runtime. Neveldine & Taylor are known for being hyperkinetic and graphically violent, but they're not particularly known for storytelling structure, and it's here where Taylor's writing and direction falter. The film frequently jumps between past and present, and at just 83 minutes long, it felt like a lot of depth and connective tissue got left on the cutting room floor. After around the halfway point, the plot barely matters anymore, and a third-act twist that I saw coming the moment I saw Lance Henriksen's name in the opening credits feels awfully underutilized. Once it got going, virtually every moment in this film provided big laughs and cheers from the crowd I saw this with, many of them coming from myself, but it felt increasingly insubstantial as it wore on. It culminates in an ending that brings the film to an abrupt halt just when it feels like it's hit the climax, as though Taylor didn't know how to properly end it. Open endings can work, but that's not what this felt like; rather, it came across as though the last ten minutes had been cut from the film.

The Bottom Line

It may not be a masterpiece, especially with its inability to fully capitalize on all the ideas it has going through it, but great performances (especially from Nicolas Cage doing what he does best) and plentiful violence and black comedy make this worth watching at least once.

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