Mom and Dad: Nic Cage in high-concept/low-taste mock-horror about killing your kids

By Liam Lacey

Rating: B-minus

We know the meanings of movies change with time, but can they change in a week?

The mock horror movie, Mom and Dad, starring Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage, is a high-concept, low-taste movie that reverses the usual theme of teens run amok. Instead, we have virally-infected parents, programmed to attack their children. 

The premise is straightforward: A viral disorder, carried by television and radio, causes American parents to turn homicidal against their own children. In the crisis, schools are let out, and a teen (Anne Winters) and her younger brother (Zackary Arthur) head home, where they struggle to avoid being killed by their deranged mom and dad (Blair and Cage).

Nicolas Cage goes a little crazy on the kids in Mom and Dad

Nicolas Cage goes a little crazy on the kids in Mom and Dad

The movie is deliberately ridiculous. But it has a wobbly, giddy momentum (writer-director Brian Taylor was half of the team behind the Jason Statham thrillers, Crank and Crank: High Voltage) and deep reserves of bad taste.

Grandparents coming over to visit? Uh-oh. A delivery room mom is handed her new-born baby? Oh, no!  To top it off, it offers Nicolas Cage offers his most exhilaratingly wacky performance since Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

A week after seeing it, though, Mom and Dad feels darker. We know movies change meaning depending on a social socio-political context? Jordan Peele's Get Out - a horror movie allegory about a secret war against black people by white people - had a greater impact by opening the week of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, openly supported by white supremacists. The television series The Handmaid's Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about an officially misogynic state, had a different resonance in the wake of the Women's March, and the inauguration of a U.S. administration dedicated to repealing women's reproductive rights.

The theme of Mom and Dad is generational conflict at a primal level (there are references to sows eating their farrow) but the movie, which had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, is also modern and social. 

About 15 minutes into the film, in a high-school class, there's a crisis. The scene simulates familiar news footage of school shootings: Teens are running away from something. Parents have clustered outside the school fences -- though in the movie, the parents have homicidal, rather than protective, intentions. 

The final half of the movie takes place within the Ryan home: a Home Alone stand-off between the children and their homicidal adults. And whatever qualms you have about parental abuse (or the uncomfortable scene where Joshua finds and plays with his father's revolver), this is mostly a cat-and-mouse game, with echoes of Home Alone booby-traps. The whole thing is accompanied by a chorus of Cage's operatic ranting, as the hyperbolic embodiment of parental exasperation.

But the high-school scene, in the first half of the film, has a different intensity after the Valentine's Day shooting of seventeen students at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the call for gun control measures that has come from the surviving students. This is very much being cast as a war against the young, sustained by pro-gun legislators and lobbyists who are cast, in effect, as accessories to child murder. Students are holding a march on Washington on March 24 against current gun laws.

Along with the campaigns launched of minorities and women, the generational movement is emerging as the third front of resistance against the Trump presidency.  Mom and Dad is unlikely to be regarded as any kind of marker of this moment. But, no doubt, it taps into some kind of crazy rage.

Mom and Dad. Written and directed by Brian Taylor. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters and Zacary Arthur. Mom and Dad opens at the Imagine - Carlton Cinemas and is available on demand through various streaming services today.