Catch a parent, any parent, in the right/wrong mood, and they’ll cop to a dirty secret: There are days when their kids drive them completely fucking insane. Like, foaming-at-the-mouth crazy. Like, I’ll-turn-this-car-around-and-then-maybe-steer-it-into-oncoming-traffic bonkers. Brian Taylor’s Mom And Dad takes one of those days, familiar to any overtaxed or underappreciated guardian, and makes its madness very literal, as the parental population of a cozy American suburb falls under the spell of a mysterious broadcast that turns them into homicidal killers; they’re basically the rage zombies of 28 Days Later, if said rage was directed only at the infected’s own offspring. It’s easy to imagine a queasy, disturbing version of this premise, one actually interested in playing with the taboo terror of mothers and fathers snapping and turning on their children. (For that, look to The Babadook.) Mom And Dad, however, mostly plays its nightmare scenario for twisted laughs, not scares. And if it doesn’t entirely exploit the potency of its metaphor, there’s still a certain grim fun in seeing Taylor give “family feud” an outrageous new meaning.
His film does have an ace up its sleeve, and that’s the presence of none other than Hollywood’s reigning wild man Nicolas Cage, who hasn’t delivered a performance this bug-eyed over-the-top in ages. Remarkably, Cage’s intensity is matched—and twisted into its own diabolically entertaining shape—by Selma Blair. The two play Brent and Kendall Ryan, exhausted yuppie parents grappling with the frustrations of basic domestic life. Their kids can be handfuls, though not in any particularly unusual way: 9-year-old Josh (Zackary Arthur) gets into scampish preadolescent mischief, while teenage Carly (Anne Winters) does her teenage duty and snidely back-talks her mother. This again-very-normal familial tension transforms into something more barbaric once the admirably unexplained transmission starts turning grown-ups all over town against the fruit of their loins. The Ryan kids end up locked in a life-and-death struggle in their own home, doing their best to fend off violent attacks from their literal, possessed makers.
Taylor, one half of the defunct writing-directing duo affectionately referred to as Neveldine & Taylor, generally specializes in speed-freak action movies, like the Crank series and the Ghost Rider sequel, the latter of which also featured a juicily unhinged Cage. Regardless of genre and separated from his creative partner, Taylor continues to push a stuttering, excessively caffeinated style: flash cuts, extreme angles, an ironic ’70s-throwback credits sequence, an electronic soundtrack that alternates a Dawn Of The Dead synth throb with the kind of abrasive dubstep that would surely infuriate a few actual moms and dads in the audience. If Taylor had any intention of making an effective horror movie, his assaultively garish approach basically jettisoned the possibility, because Mountain Dew commercials aren’t scary. (There’s one amusingly unnerving image, to be fair: fledgling fathers crowded around the glass of the hospital’s newborn observation room, something more sinister than pride in their dead stare.)
On the other hand, Mom And Dad has Nicolas Cage raving like a lunatic, destroying a pool table with a sledgehammer, and—before the attempted kid-killing begins in earnest—doing a very funny variation on the put-upon, rat-racing American dad. The film also has one stroke of narrative genius, and that’s to allow Brent and Kendall to preserve their personalities after succumbing to the brainwashing—we’re not watching mindless ghouls but the same two characters, just suddenly preoccupied with butchering their young. That gives Mom And Dad, disposable genre junk that it is, a certain demented resonance. Call it a guilty pleasure for fed-up, stressed-out parents everywhere, however doting they might be on better days.