Watching Mom and Dad instantly recalls the forever-wisdom of the classical hip-hop scholars formerly known as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince: “Parents are the same/ No matter time nor place/ So to you other kids all across the land/ Take it from me/ Parents just don’t understand.” Word, Mr. Smith.
Easy-reading log line: Cage and Blair, along with every other mother and father in the world, fall victim to an unknown ailment that causes them to want to kill their children … or not. Equal parts Parents, Joe Lynch’s recent masterpiece Mayhem, Randy Quaid circa right now, and the grimmest Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds song ever, this deliriously fucked up black comedy-of-terrors is Brian Taylor’s (of Neveldine & Taylor from the Crank films) pièce de résistance.
Director Taylor did double duty penning the script, which manages to touch on everything from annoying teen iPhone dissonance to sibling exigency. And isn’t wanting to kill your own spoiled rotten DNA as American as apple pie? Of course not: The inviolable urge to go Homer Simpson on thine rugrats' asses is natural – dates back to Abraham, Isaac, and Roseanne. This is all about Those Darn Progeny, and offspring-playing Arthur and Winters are top-notch, but Cage and Blair as the titular 'rents are deranged, inventive, and then some.
Taylor, editors Rose Corr and Fernando Villena, and cinematographer Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) keep things chock-full o’ creepy (yet realistic from a teenager’s POV) until all Cage busts loose. Until then, well, it’s almost like everyone was holding back a little. What should be the most transgressive film of the year ends up seeming like a vehicle for two of our best, most fearless actors and not a whole lot more. I can’t fault either of them for not giving their all to The Crazy, but if you’ve been hardened by all the brouhaha since Mom and Dad debuted at Fantastic Fest, you may be expecting Klaus Kinski-brand Caginess. This is not that film however, which frankly fails to go too far. (But can you imagine if Cage and the late Kinski went twitching eyeball to eyeball? Heaven!)
The most nihilistically goofball sequence has Cage singing “The Hokey Pokey” while eviscerating a pool table. Cage, as anyone who’s a fan of Vampire’s Kiss or the Werner Herzog-directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans can tell you, is a master of nutcracking doom. Only Christopher Walken comes close in terms of sheer, genius weird, but here it’s hardly even a near miss, not even with a Louisville Slugger. Cage owns this film, dead babies, ruinous chaos, and all.
Taylor’s film works best as both a commentary on the viral limits of parental affection, and the terror of bringing up said juvies. Mom and Dad creates and sustains suspense via horrors mostly unseen, and it’s also not-Matt Groening’s wickedest Treehouse of Horror couch-gag bar none. See it with someone you love. And maybe not someone you gave birth to.
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