‘Mom & Dad’: Film Review | TIFF 2017

Mom and Dad  - STILL 1  - TIFF PUBLICITY - H 2017
Courtesy of TIFF
A tale as old as Greek mythology, told with verve, panache and lots of fake blood.

Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair get their crazy on as parents hell-bent on killing their own children in Brian Taylor's black-comedy horror flick.

The kind of rip-snorting, relatively cheap and cheerful black comedy the industry doesn’t make enough of anymore, Mom & Dad is a deliciously lurid throwback to cult fare like Parents, Heathers, Serial Mom, early Gregg Araki movies and other to-the-bone horror-driven skewerings of suburban pieties. Fueled by a great premise — something throws the instinct in parents to protect their kids into reverse, resulting in a worldwide epidemic of filicide — in an earlier era, this would have had a long life in repertory cinemas as a midnight special, but these days it will probably have a swift run around the theatrical circuit before hitting the streaming platforms. Even so, Mom & Dad will do no damage to the careers of leads Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair, both in top antic form here, and writer-director Brian Taylor (the Crank franchise, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance).

End titles reveal that some tract-house covered stretch of Kentucky was used as a location, although this could be happening anywhere in America where families live in McMansions adorned with cheesy homiletic wall decorations extolling familial harmony, attend anonymous-looking high schools and work out at Zumba classes.

The Ryan family — dad Brent (Cage), mom Kendall (Blair), high-school sophomore Carly (Anne Winters) and pre-adolescent Joshua (Zachary Arthur) — are typical affluent middle-class Americans, with typical middle-class American levels of dysfunction. Brent secretly longs for the days when he did donuts in his Trans Am while his teen girlfriend shoved her bosom in his face. Kendall feels empty and lost now that her kids are growing up and she has no career, while her relationship with sulky Carly is steadily deteriorating as the latter’s center of gravity shifts toward her shallow friends and her boyfriend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham). Brent disapproves of the latter because, he says, he’s a junior, although clearly the problem for Brent is that Damon is black.

One day, some inexplicable force that seems to express itself through TV static (shades of Videodrome) triggers parents everywhere to develop murderous desires to kill their own children, a wittily literal expression of the rage all parents experience with their progeny at times. Taylor’s script slyly name-checks those even more taboo feelings of resentment and jealousy parents feel, especially in the case of Kendall’s cougar-ish friend (Samantha Lemole), who will eventually end up choking her own child, Carly’s bratty buddy Riley (Olivia Crocicchia), to death.

In strictly genre terms, it’s refreshing to see a film willing to create a new kind of monster here out of the parents who are seen at one point massing, zombie-like, at the school gates, like it’s some kind of evil pickup time from hell. Except they’re not zombies, they’re sentient beings just like they’ve always been, except with an insatiable desire to kill their offspring. This means they’re still capable of talking, running fast and problem-solving, so when, for example, Carly and Joshua lock themselves in the basement to escape Brent and Kendall, mom fetches the handy Sawzall reciprocating saw to tackle the door. (One can’t help wondering if Sawzall are in on the joke and paid for this sinister product placement, especially since Cage keeps announcing with maniacal glee that this DIY tool “saws all!”)

Zero-to-60 speed crazy is pretty much right in Cage’s wheelhouse, and he offers up a perfectly amusing comical workout of the madman shtick he could pretty much do in this sleep at this point. More impressive is Blair, a chronically underused talent who gets to demonstrate her already established flair for comedy and more besides in a role to which she brings a surprisingly level of nuance. Both Winters and Arthur as the hapless fruit of their loins are sturdy and more held back. The same couldn’t be said for Marilyn Dodds Frank and Lance Henriksen, all popping eyes and weapon-wielding mania, who make a hilarious last-act entrance that turns out to be one of the film’s best punchlines.

A lurid color palette helps to amp up the fun, as does the whizz-bang brutal cutting of editors Rose Corr and Fernando Villena.

Production companies: Armory Films, Dovecheck Productions Ltd., The Fyzz Facility, XYZ Films, Momentum Pictures
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert T. Cunningham, Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Samantha Lemole, Olivia Crocicchia, Adin Steckler, Rachel Melvin, Sharon Gee
Director-screenwriter: Brian Taylor
Producers: Chris Lemole, Tim Zajaros, Brian Taylor
Executive producers: Jere Hausfater, Cassian Elwes, Nate Bolotin, Ali Jazayeri, Nick Spicer, David Gendron, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Rob Gough
Director of photography: Daniel Pearl
Production designer: James C. Wise
Costume designer: Gina Ruiz
Editors: Rose Corr, Fernando Villena
Music: Mr. Bill
Music supervisor: Ryan Gaines
Casting: Alexis Jade Links
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival

Sales: XYZ Films

83 minutes