How do you know you’re watching a horror film that just wants to have fun? The clues are that it’s cast Nicholas Cage as a possessed papa, has a runtime under ninety minutes and features a Shining tribute that ends with a housekeeper wiping out her daughter off screen with a meat cleaver.
Mom and Dad is all over the place. Even before a mysterious burst of static has infected parents with a passionate urge to massacre their offspring, it’s bonkers. There’s a chaotic soundtrack that veers between dubstep and vintage John Williams, cinematography that slips between slick and student-quality, and a directorial eclecticism that threatens headaches. What’s odd, then, is just how entertaining the ride proves to be.
Opening with a Burtonesque shot of America’s chocolate box suburbia, tension belies the seemingly happy dynamics of the Ryan family. There’s Dad: Brent (Nicholas Cage), in the throes of a mid-life crisis, Mum: Kendall (Selma Blair) , who regrets giving up her career for parenting, moody teen Carly (Anne Winters) and pesky young Josh (Zachary Arthur). Essentially, they fit well the archetype of big screen families, making it a relief that the journey that follows is anything but and can be best described as a severe expression of suppressed angst that ought to be avoided by those who are pregnant and/or are remotely squeamish.
With his being a simple enough premise – a mysterious transmission turns parents into child-murdering psychopaths – writer/director Brian Taylor is able to dive straight into set pieces that range from eerie to traumatising whilst being often very funny. Echoes of Kubrick sit alongside beats of Shaun of the Dead and Spy Kids – of all films – with admirable aplomb. Had this been made with a straight face, thqe result would have been unbearable.
Whilst the film’s most memorable scenes take place in a local maternity ward, things really start to fly when the harassed Brent and Kendall succumb to the infection. To the understandable horror of Carly and Josh, the former rants about online pornography and the latter has way too much fun with a gas pipe. It’s the faithfully brutal live-action Tom and Jerry that Hollywood will never produce.
Boasting a blast of pure, unadulterated Cage mania, Mom and Dad rates pleasing high on the Nickterscale and is thus able to overcome many, many flaws.