The Family that Slays Together

Mom and Dad
(USA, 83 min.)
Written and directed by Brian Taylor
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham  
Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair star in Mom and Dad
VVS Films
Why would anyone have kids? They whine. They’re messy. They’re expensive. They’re noisy. They completely consume one’s life and one’s identity. These points could all be positives provided one’s the paternal/maternal type and/or up for a challenge. If not, kids might be one-way tickets to crazy town. Having just raised a kitten, I don’t know how or why people do it when it comes to human children.

The family that slays together stays together though, as evidenced by the riotous black comedy Mom and Dad. The film puts a fun spin on the zombie apocalypse/viral outbreak class of horror movie’s as the world’s parents suddenly turn against their kids with murderous fury. (The press notes and official synopsis attribute the outbreak to “unknown origins,” but nobody had kids at a neighbouring table during brunch needs an explanation to buy the premise.) The premise is simple, but sick: mom and dad brought the kids into the world, and they can take them out.

A violent and crazy day ensues as Brent and Kendal Ryan, played by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair, decide it’s time to kill the family bloodline and go back to the pleasure of being DINKs. (Dual income, no kids.) Their offspring, Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh (Zackary Arthur), try to survive the night after coming home from a frantic day at school that saw a mass slaughter of students at the hands of their parents. When home is no longer the safest place a kid knows, life is pretty frightening.

Mom and dad submit to the homicidal impulse within and go after Carly and Josh like two Americans shopping on Black Friday. From meat tenderizers to coat hangers (har, har!), the ’rents furiously try to slay the kiddos tying them to this disappointing life of domesticity. The adults in the film pulverize their kids like flesh-hungry ghouls from grindhouse zombie films and there are overtones of domestic violence as several of the students, like Carly’s boyfriend Damon (Robert Cunningham), are slow to register this brutality since they deal with it daily. In Damon’s case, it proves to be an asset as survival mode kicks in and the kids find an ally against Mr. and Mrs. Ryan.

Writer/director Brian Taylor finds the right level of whacked-out lunacy for this silly farce. Briskly paced and mercifully brief, Mom and Dad doesn’t overstay its welcome and provides a quick and satisfying shot of blood. Taylor builds upon his previous collaboration with Cage, Ghost Rider and draws the monstrous energy of the film out of the actor’s unhinged performance. (One hopes this review is the only time someone notes that film in the positive sense.) Cage is as off the rails as ever in Mom and Dad, yet it’s the first time since Bad Lieutenant or Joe that he hasn’t seemed like a total paycheck-hunting nutcase. Blair, on the other hand, gives a stronger and more nuanced performance as Kendall experiences maternal impulses that flutter in and out of her during the zombie-like rage. She gives the film its emotional centre, while drawing upon her dry comedic chops to embody Kendall’s disappointment with the life she has.

The madcap premise surprisingly keeps much of the gore offscreen and stages the most graphic episodes of violence through implication. The choice to withhold the bloodlust might disappoint some audiences expecting a gory gong show—and Mom and Dad might have been funnier and zanier if it upped the Looney Tunes violence to the extremes to explode the absurdity of the premise—but the film might actually play better for some audiences without it. Mom and Dad isn’t an easy film to watch or appreciate in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida and the growing outcry for gun control to save children’s lives. It’s awkward to laugh at the sight of parents killing children as they flee their school. On the other hand, this shit isn’t really satire aside from zombie outbreak. People are slaughtering America’s children daily. Must it take the insanity of Nic Cage to make the violence seem absurd?

Mom and Dad opens in theatres Feb. 23.