Mark Reviews Movies

Mom & Dad


1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brian Taylor

Cast: Selma Blair, Nicolas Cage, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert T. Cunningham, Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Dodds Frank

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing horror violence, language throughout, some sexual content/nudity and teen drug use)

Running Time: 2:03

Release Date: 1/19/18 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 18, 2018

Nobody in the movie says it, but the premise of Mom & Dad is essentially that, since parents brought their children into the world, they are free to take them out of it, too. Under normal circumstances, they wouldn't, of course, but the movie gives the parents of the world an excuse—a mysterious signal broadcast across televisions around the globe that triggers some murderous impulse in mothers and fathers. An expert in the movie argues that this is a natural phenomenon, known as "savaging," which is fairly common in pigs. In theory, we, as a species, are better than that. Writer/director Brian Taylor apparently doesn't think so.

The result is a strange movie—a combination of horror, thriller, and dark comedy—that assumes two things: 1.) that we'll accept multiple scenes of actual and attempted filicide portrayed for a twisted blend of horror and humor, and 2.) that the central gimmick is enough to prop up a thin story about two kids trying to survive their parents' sudden murderous rampage. The second assumption is incorrect. The first one might have worked, if not for the glee that Taylor indulges in the movie's violence.

There's one scene in particular—in which a mother, having just given birth, attempts to crush her newborn baby—that's especially in bad taste. The scene might have been horrifying as a surprise, but Taylor spends the first act repeatedly building to it. He wants us to anticipate it, and whatever his intentions with that scene may be, it simply comes across as a cynical attempt at inevitable shock.

The story follows the Ryan family: mom Kendall (Selma Blair), dad Brent (Nicolas Cage), elder daughter Carly (Anne Winters), and son Josh (Zackary Arthur). They're a fairly normal, upper-middle-class family living in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood. Brent works a desk job to support his clan. Kendall spends her day attending a dance exercise class and hanging out with friends. Carly is dating a guy named Damon (Robert T. Cunningham), of whom Brent disapproves (Dad insists that it's simply because the kid is a hormone-driven teenager—not because the guy is black). Josh stays at home and plays with his toys.

There's a news report about a mother who left her child in a car parked on railroad tracks (Brent tells Josh, "This is why you listen to your mother," before recreating the murder with his son's toys), and soon enough, Carly's school is overrun with parents trying to climb the gates and reach their kids. When they do, the scene quickly turns bloody.

Taylor doesn't give an explanation for what is happening, except to show how parents are transformed into killers after watching static on TV. What he does provide is something akin to a justification. Kendall is upset that she spent over a decade raising her children with nothing to show for it now. Carly barely talks to her, except with sarcasm and accusations. She could have had a career at this point, but now, the business she helped to create wants nothing to do with her, because she hasn't had any work experience in years. Brent fondly recalls his glory days as a young man, driving around in a muscle car and having carefree sex with plenty of women. Now, he's older, balding, and stuck in a low-paying job, while the car gathers dust in the garage.

The implication is that children are burdens that only disappoint in the end. None of the parents who have killed their kids here is remorseful. They go about their business as if nothing has happened. There's a dark and—at least in the movie's self-contained world—dementedly honest truth to what happens, why these parents do what they do (The signal, it seems, only activates some deeply held, secret rage), and how they respond.

Taylor, though, mostly ignores the potential of these implications (There are a few flashbacks to illuminate the mounting antagonism between Brent, Kendall, and their kids, but all of them exist to explain or provide retroactive foreshadowing). He's only using this as a gimmick for what turns out to be little more than a thriller, in which the clever Carly and plucky Josh have to defend themselves against their parents. Whatever could have been gleaned from this setup is dismissed, although the arrival of Brent's parents (played by Lance Henriksen and Marilyn Dodds Frank) injects some inter-generational energy to the cat-and-mouse game.

What Mom & Dad has to say about the tenuous, ever-changing parent-child relationship is intriguing, but how the movie says those things is at once overblown and undercooked. We're obviously supposed to feel uncomfortable with the material, but that discomfort isn't worth the movie's trivial observations.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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