mom and dad review

Note: This Mom and Dad review is as spoiler-free as possible, but some minor spoilers do pop up.

At this point in his career, Nicolas Cage has become meme-ified to the point where it’s hard to know where the real Cage ends and his pop-eyed, shrill-screaming on-screen persona begins. This isn’t to call Cage a bad actor – indeed, he’s a phenomenal actor, and capable of turning in subtle, quiet performances (see: Bringing Out the Dead). But here, in the early 21st century, it’s safe to say that when audiences seek out a Nicolas Cage movie, they’re looking for Cage at his Cage-iest. They want the actor to be literally bouncing off the walls.

Folks will get that, and more, when they watch Brian Taylor’s frenetic, manic horror-comedy Mom and Dad. Taylor, who was one-half of the directors who birthed the loony Crank series, brings the thudding cuts and wild edits of that aforementioned series to Mom and Dad; whether or not this is the type of film that needs such things is another question, however.

Mom and Dad has all the hallmarks of a zombie movie: there’s a mysterious disease turning people into murderous monsters. The film is borrowing from 28 Days Later and more, updating it all to a suburban setting, and throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure. One also can’t help but think of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s horror-comedy Cooties, which had a similar premise, but with the ages of attackers and intended victims switched.

Here, a group of bored, spoiled suburban kids find themselves in imminent danger when a mysterious event causes adults everywhere to suddenly want to brutally murder their offspring. I’d like to tell you there’s more to Mom and Dad than that, but there really isn’t. The film occasionally dabbles in surprisingly emotional moments, but what Mom and Dad really wants to do is let Nicolas Cage run wild, and that’s not such a bad thing.

Typical teen Carly (Anne Winters) thinks her parents (Cage and Selma Blair) are hopelessly boring. She ignores them every chance she can get, and isn’t above swiping a couple hundred bucks from her mom’s purse. But Carly’s dull suburban life is soon upended, and fast, when dear old mom and dad start trying to kill her and her younger brother Josh (Zackary Arthur).

Writer/director Taylor takes his time building up to the pivotal moment when the parents go mad. We know it’s going to happen, and Taylor delightfully teases the audience with fake-out moments here and there. All the while, we wait, on the edge of our seat; longing for that moment when Cage finally flips his lid and starts smashing shit up.

The problem here is similar to a problem that Stephen King had when he saw Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. To King, casting Jack Nicholson as a caretaker slowly going crazy was a mistake, because Nicholson, with his arched eyebrows and devilish grin, seemed crazy from the get-go. Cage’s work here falls into this same category: before he’s snapped, he already seems on edge. In fact, the film provides an early flashback sequence that shows him smashing a pool table with an axe while singing “The Hokey Pokey.” Remember: this is supposed to be before his character went nuts.

Still, it’s hard to resist Cage’s manic charms. This may not be the craziest performance in his career (it’s pretty hard to top Vampire’s Kiss), but it’s yet another example of the actor giving it his all and refusing to hold back, even a little. Mom and Dad is yet another example of an acting style that Cage calls “Nouveau Shamanic.” I have no idea what that means, and I don’t know if Cage does either, but he once expounded on it by saying, “By the time I got around to Vampire’s Kiss and then Bad Lieutenant and…Drive Angry and then also Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, I had realized that I’d developed my own style and process and school of acting which is called Nouveau Shamanic. That’s the new style of acting and at some point I’ll have to write a book.”

Cage isn’t the only actor who gets to shine here. Selma Blair, an actress who has more than earned the right to a big career revival, also lets loose. We spend more time with Blair’s character Kendall than we do with Cage’s Brent, and some of the best moments of the movie revolve around Blair as she struggles to come to terms with her current life. She gave up her career for her children, and now she can’t help but wonder if it was even worth it. Blair’s descent into murderous rage is more controlled than Cage’s; it results in a study in contrasts – Cage goes big while she goes small, yet one could argue her performance is the more effective.

Mom and Dad has a killer premise, literally, but it’s little more than that. The “parents trying to kill their kids” idea can only take things so far, and Taylor tries to shake things up by occasionally jumping back in time to tender, emotional moments to sharply contrast with the lunacy currently unfolding. These flashbacks almost never work, and instead derail any momentum the film was building. The boost the film desperately needs arrives near the end, when Cage’s parents arrive with their own thirst of blood. Cage’s father is played by always-dependable character actor Lance Henriksen, and watching Cage and Henriksen try to murder each other over and over again is a treat to watch, particularly a moment that has Cage’s character stabbed in the rear end, causing him to yelp over and over again like a frightened Yorkshire Terrier.

Mom and Dad is just wild enough to draw in a midnight movie crowd, and fans of crazy Nicolas Cage performances won’t go away unsatisfied. On top of all this, the soundtrack, by Mr. Bill, is a frenetic, pulsing dream that underlays the whole film nicely. Still, even with all this in place, it’s hard not to want just a little bit more. With just a little bit more finesse, Mom and Dad would’ve become a new cult classic. Instead, we’ll have to just settle for it being another notch in the belt that is Nicolas Cage’s manic career.

Mom and Dad opens in limited release and is available to rent digitally on January 19, 2018.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista has contributed to /Film, CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net