Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Parents Just Don't Understand: MOM AND DAD

It doesn’t come together with the sick jangled joy of writer-director Brian Taylor’s best films (grubby, manically entertaining action efforts Crank and Gamer, which he made as half of Neveldine/Taylor), but his first solo effort, sloppy, nervy horror film Mom and Dad, packs a perverse punch. It’s a novel take on the zombie subgenre, exploding suburbia not with a metaphor for materialism or racism, but a gross inversion of the helicopter parent. Now the folks aren’t invested all-consumingly in their children’s every move, but are activated through mysterious signals in snowy TV channels to want to kill them. This leads to several bracing, darkly comic set-pieces, starting with a twisted pick-up at the local high school, middle-aged suburbanites rioting at the bus line to attack their kids. They climb fences, and chase the fleeing teens across the football field, bewildered police launching tear gas to no effect as backpacks are flung and apple-cheeked youngsters are tackled by suddenly-malevolent paternal bulk. Worst (but also best, in its way) is a sequence set in a maternity ward. The screaming, crying, gasping, blood-curdling, darkly funny stretch, shot in quick cuts of queasy shaking shots and scored to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” is the only horror movie scene in ages to have me looking away from the screen, wiggling my knees, and whispering “no, no, no” under my breath for the duration.

Rather than indulge in the concept’s epic potential, Taylor keeps the focus narrow on one particular family. A teen bad girl (Anne Winters) and her innocent younger brother (Zackary Arthur) find their usual days of ducking their parents’ mid-life crises upended by the sudden murderous intent. Granted, Dad (Nicolas Cage) had already sledgehammered a pool table while singing “The Hokey Poky” three weeks prior, so they weren’t exactly a picture of normalcy to begin with. (An early scene of Cage playfully tickling his kid is shot with wiggly intensity despite the benign intent.) Still, when Mom (Selma Blair) joins in on the homicidal gleefulness, it’s hard not to feel the kids’ panic while they’re huddling together, at a loss for what to do in the face of this insanity. The performances are all perfectly committed, but none more so than Cage and Blair who sink in with convincingly unhinged violent persistence. Taylor’s manic pace and uneven whirlwind tone never quite hooks into the dread of the concept – outside the hospital scenes – and ramps up the intensity so quickly that it’s not until the climax kicks the whole thing into a next-level dark comic scramble that it really becomes something extra special. At 83 minutes, it somehow still feels too long. Perhaps a film tighter and more clever could’ve done more, but what’s here is cheap, grimy, bloody, occasionally funny, often upsetting, and always wonderfully demented. It’s just the right amount of interestingly bad and almost good to make a fine minor cult classic someday.

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