Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, January 29, 2018

Director Report Card: Neveldine/Taylor (2018)

6. Mom and Dad
Directed by Brian Taylor

Since the desolation of the Neveldine/Taylor partnership, the directors have been doing their own things. Mark Neveldine directed disappointingly lame possession flick “The Vatican Tapes” and produced two odd action footnotes, “Urge” and “Officer Downe.” Brian Taylor has been a little more quiet. He's written, directed, or produced several episodes of magical unicorn/rogue cop series “Happy!” After being filmed last year, his solo feature directorial debut has gotten a semi-wide release this month. “Mom and Dad” reunites the filmmaker with his "Ghost Rider 2" star, Nicolas Cage. And, honestly, it's been a while since a leading man and a director are so perfectly matched to each other.

Brett and Kendall Ryan are the proud parents of two kids. Daughter Carly is growing into a smart-ass teenager, stealing from her mom, doing drugs, and sneaking out to be with her boyfriend. Son Josh is a hyper-energetic ten year old. Despite that, the family lives a comfortable life, Brett's job paying for a maid and allowing Kendall to be a stay-at-home mom. A normal day is interrupted when a strange virus begins to sweep the neighborhood. Something is compelling parents to murder their children. Brett and Kendall soon come under the sway of this strange condition, forcing Carlie and Josh to fight for their lives against their mother and father.

On paper, “Mom and Dad” sounds like a harrowing horror film. The death of children is still one of the big taboos of the horror genre. The idea of parents becoming homicidal towards their own kids, like a reverse “Who Could Kill a Child?,” could be mined for serious horror. Instead, Brian Taylor embraces his gonzo tendencies. “Mom and Dad” is a dark horror/comedy that frequently veers towards the manic and wacky. This is best displayed in a scene where a brand new mother attempts to strangle her newborn baby. What begins as an intense moment soon gravitates towards audacious absurdity, the dangling umbilical cord dragging behind the mother as she approaches the screaming newborn.

The film makes an especially inspired decision. It would've been easy to turn this premise into a zombie movie. To have the parents be mindless murder machines, targeting their kids with a single-minded determination. However, “Mom and Dad” lets its homicidal parents keep their personalities. So Kendall waves at the neighbors while she’s walking around the house to poison her kids. Brent remains obsessed with his old sports car in the garbage. When the grandfather shows up, he pauses in his murderous fury to enthusiastically greet his grandson. That contrast creates a lot of humor and adds so much more personality to the movie.

The best horror movies root their premises in something stronger and richer. “Mom and Dad,” though far from a serious horror film, does indeed have a potent concept at its center. This is a movie about one of the darkest secrets of parenthood: That sometimes parents resent their children. That they give up so much, their youth and their hopes and dreams, to raise their kids instead. Sometimes, maybe then even wish the kids were dead. This is touched upon in several key scenes. The most pivotal one involves Brent and Kendal talking about their regrets in the basement, looking at how their youth is lost and how things have changed so much.

Most people will want to check out “Mom and Dad” because of its star. This is another movie primarily devoted to Nicolas Cage going fucking ballistic. And, oh boy, is it entertaining. In the early scenes, Cage has fun playing an up-tight, suburban dad, dropping hints at his future homicidal rage to come. Once the virus affects him, Cage goes to the insane heights we all know he is capable of. He yells, screams, he rants and raves. At one point, he begins to repeats the brand name of a reciprocating saw over and over again. By the end, he’s running through the house, barking and howling like a dog. He’s set on fire, with Fruit Loops stuck to his face. A much hyped scene has Cage destroying a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing “The Honky Pokey.” Yes, that is absolutely a high-light of the movie.

Nic Cage going insane in an indie, genre movie is delightful but expected. A nice surprise in “Mom and Dad” is Selma Blair. Blair keeps pace with Cage. She begins as a dotting mom, quickly transferring into full-blown panic mode when the chaos starts. After coming under the influence of the wave, Blair suddenly transforms into a convincing villain. She coldly goes about her homicidal mission. As her offspring prove harder to executed then expected, Blair lets her manic side out more and more. Blair happily seesaws between mouth-foaming madness and a sweet, material side that isn’t even suppressed by her need to kill.

Cage and Blair are clearly the stars of the show. Technically, their kids are actually the protagonists of the film though. Anne Winters plays Carly, the daughter. Winters has some issues to overcome, as the character is unappealing initially. However, as the situation becomes more and more severe, Winters’ will to survive makes the character endearing. As ten year old Josh, Zackary Arthur – who already has quite a few credits, despite his young age – shows some clear abilities, panicking well and making the audience like him. Lance Henriksen puts in a late film appearance. The opening credits spoil this appearance, which otherwise would’ve been a fun surprise. Henriksen is also hamming it in a fun way.

Comparing “The Vatican Tapes” and “Mom and Dad,” you get the impression that the driving visual force behind the “Crank” films was Brian Taylor. “Mom and Dad” continues the frenetic style that characterized those movies. There’s often a frantic, kinetic energy in the film. The action scenes verge on the difficult to follow at times. Near the end, when the kids are wrestling with Mom, it almost becomes too much. however, when it works, this style lends “Mom and Dad” an energy almost as wild its leading performers. Taylor also tags on a retro-style opening credits, bringing a grindhouse feeling to the entire movie, in addition to being a decent work of art on its own.

As a horror/comedy, “Mom and Dad” mostly goes for comedy over scares. However, there’s still one or two moments that actually function as straight-up horror. Carly’s boyfriend takes some pretty severe abuse. There’s a bracing attack with his own father, involving a shattered beer bottle. Later, a wire coat-hanger is weaponinzed a cringe-inducing way. The film’s opening sequence, where a mother calmly parks her mini-van on train tracks before walking away, functions as a chilling short film as its own. The aforementioned scene, involving the newborn, eventually shifts towards crazy humor but does begin with an upsetting set-up.

Even separated from his directorial partner, Brian Taylor still displays some of the same problems. As in “Gamer” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “Mom and Dad” has some pacing problems. For a while, the film has an odd back-and-forth, going from manic, high energy sequences and slower, more character-oriented moments. That leaves the viewer with a bit of whiplash. However, as it goes on, “Mom and Dad” finds its footing as a high-speed, increasingly nutty thriller. The last act gets especially insane, the film adding more characters and getting wilder as the movie clatters towards an intentionally blunt ending.

The score for “Mom and Dad” is credited to an entity called “Mr. Bill.” Matching its retro opening credits, the film’s score has a distinctively eighties feeling to it. It’s heavy on throbbing, anxious synth. Occasionally, the scattered melodies seem to intentionally recall Disasterpiece’s score for “It Follows.” Other times, the soundtrack leans heavily on wailing, heavy metal guitars. The film also features some especially inspired needle drops. Erasure’s “Chains of Love” puts in a hilarious appearance at one point.

Pretty much from the moment it was announced, “Mom and Dad” was more-or-less destined to become a cult favorite. One of the “Crank” guys making a horror movie where Nic Cage goes to maximum Cage-ness? Yeah, there was going to be a devoted following for that. Luckily, “Mom and Dad” is a lot of fun for the most part. Taylor brings some neat gimmicks to the premise, putting his own spin on it. This isn’t worth seeing just because Nic Cage goes completely fucking bug-nuts in it. There are other reasons to watch it, even though that’s still a really good reason to catch it out. [Grade: B]

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