Mom and Dad (2017)

Rating: B

Dir: Brian Taylor
Star: Anne Winters, Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Zackary Arthur

The director is best known as one-half of the Neveldine/Taylor partnership, who gave the world Jason Statham’s Crank franchise. While his regular partner is not present, much the same degree of in your face intensity can be found here. The premise is something – unclear what exactly, it appears possibly connected to TV broadcasts, Videodrome-like – is causing parents to reverse their normal nature toward their kids. Instead of inspiring feelings of protection and nurturing, they now want to kill them. It focuses on the the Ryan family: Dad Brent (Cage), Mom Kendall (Blair), teenage daughter Carly (Winters) and young son Josh (Arthur), and the kids’ efforts to survive the predatory attacks of their parents.

Think of this as a twist on the zombie genre, with the undead in this case being no less viciously inclined, just rather more eloquent about their own hopes and fears. It manages a nice sense of balance: Carly initially seems like the embodiment of every bratty teenage cliche, whining about being asked to put prearranged family obligations before a date. However, she turns out to have (very well!) hidden qualities, proving fiercely loyal to Josh, and putting herself in danger to try and rescue him, when she realizes the situation [an aside: her boyfriend appears to be made entirely from adamantium, since he’s more resilient to damage than Jason Vorhees].

Conversely, while the parents are nominally the villains, the movie includes particularly good use of flashbacks to make the audience sympathize with them. For example, there’s Brent’s aborted attempt to create a family room, in the hope of reconnecting with everyone, and Kendall’s effort to restart her long-gone career. Both appear to be going through a mid-life crisis, as they realize their best days are behind them, as they sacrifice their lives for the largely ungrateful benefit of Carly and Josh. Of course, given the scenario, you won’t be surprised to learn there is an extended sequence of Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit, and the tables end up turned when his parents show up, no less murderously inclined towards their own offspring (playing Gramps is one of the few people who could conceivably play Nic Cage’s father).

It’d make a good double-bill with Cooties; there, it was the kids who were not alright, and attacking the adults. The films share a similarly transgressive quality, with violence against children being one of the few violence taboos about which Hollywood is still squeamish. This works better, sustaining the energy of its silly premise (I mean, what would be the point of unleashing such a weapon?) more consistently than I expected. The carnage likely reaches its apex with Kendall’s visit to her sister, who has the misfortune to give birth in the middle of all the chaos. Inevitably, this leads to the fastest post-partum murder attempt in cinematic history. If you find such a twisted display of imagination laudable – and I certainly did – then you’ll have plenty more to appreciate here.