D: Brian Taylor / 83m
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert T. Cunningham, Olivia Crocicchia, Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Dodds Frank
For the Ryans it’s just another ordinary, humdrum day. Dad Brent (Cage) is getting through another dull day at the office, mum Kendall (Blair) is trying to make sense of where her life has gone, teenage daughter Carly (Winters) is rebelling against her parents because they don’t approve of her boyfriend, Damon (Cunningham), and young son Josh (Arthur) is home for the day. But partway through the morning, news reports start referring to incidents of parents attacking and killing their children. Carly and her best friend, Riley (Crocicchia), discover this when groups of parents show up at their school with murderous intent. Kendall hears about these incidents too, and rushes home to ensure Josh is safe – but little realising that once she’s there he won’t be. With Carly reaching home accompanied by Damon, she finds Josh alive and well, but only just before Brent arrives home too, followed by Kendall. Soon, the three children are doing their best to stay alive as Brent and Kendall show their determination to kill their children, and if it has to be messy, well…
The basic premise of Mom & Dad – what would happen if parents took up filicide with gleeful enthusiasm – is evidenced in a number of cruel, horrific, and yet somehow satisfying ways. The movie begins with a mother leaving her baby in a car on some railroad tracks with a train fast approaching. Later, a first-time mum attempts to kill her newborn within moments of its birth, and as Kendall speeds home, another mum shoves a stroller with her child inside it in front of Kendall’s car. These and other examples of parental rage in suburbia are presented with a joyful sense of mischief that is unapologetic, and the source of much of the movie’s black comedy. Of course, whether or not the idea of filicide is an acceptable source of humour will be down to the individual, but Brian Taylor’s script offers no defence in the matter – and nor should it. It’s a crazy idea, but a perfect one for a low budget horror thriller that rolls along in the wake of The Purge series, and which doesn’t show anything too graphic, such as Georgie Denbrough losing an arm in It (2017). It’s all about the tone – which is admittedly warped – but Taylor pulls it off with brash exuberance, and more to spare.
In doing so he marshalls two terrific performances from Cage and Blair. It’s a given that Cage will go overboard in his portrayal of the world weary Brent (trapped in a life he never wanted), but this time it’s in full service to the story, and it’s entirely in context of his character’s insane, murderous intentions. But it’s Blair who impresses the most, going from shocked and horrified to eerily calm about murdering her children, and offering odd, quirky moments such as when she picks up a meat tenderiser and realises what it can be used for. Both actors are clearly having a lot of fun, and Taylor’s script allows them to explore (admittedly) basic notions of what it means to be a parent and the pressures that go with it. Taylor also gets the action right – as the co-writer/director of the Crank movies should – and does so with an acknowledgment that he’s on a restricted budget, which makes some of the set ups more inventive than expected. It’s not the subtlest of movies, and though it’s far-fetched nature sometimes works against it, it’s still an entertaining, and often very funny, look at what some parents would really like to do to their kids if they were able to.
Rating: 7/10 – surprisingly well put together, and shot through with a casual disregard for the sanctity of parenthood, Mom & Dad is a blithely amoral horror thriller that works well within its production boundaries and its basic premise; wisely choosing not to explain the reason or source of why parents start killing their children, it gets on with the challenge of making it as terrifying a situation as possible – and for the most part, succeeds admirably.