How do you feel about being punched in the face and in the heart over and over again? How do you feel about filicide? How do you feel about growing up, finding a career, getting married, buying a house, having kids, growing old and losing your edge? Well, my friends, if you don’t know the answers to these questions yet, you will by the end of Mom and Dad (2017).
The trailer sells the film as a horror comedy, albeit a very, very black comedy. I’m definitely not arguing this is wrong. Mom and Dad is satire, through and through. What I am arguing is that the trailer really put me into a mindset of frantic, crazy, fizz! bang! smash! cut! blood! comedy that was sure as fuck not delivered in the film.
Mom and Dad (2017) is not a bubbly comedy horror. It’s 80% horror, 10% comedy, 10% bleak satire. It is a horror film that explores a simple idea. What if parents suddenly developed psychotic episodes in which they were out for blood? Whose blood, I hear you asking. Their own children’s blood! Obviously! Yes, this is a film where you watch parents brutally murder their own kids.
I am too far into the film right now (46:04) to not see it through (1:23:05) but let me put a huge ol’ warning on this one. While the gore isn’t torture porn level, it’s enough (and it’s implied enough) that it’s incredibly disturbing. This is not one for the emotional faint hearted.
With that being said, let’s do this thing.
Mom and Dad is written and directed by Brian Taylor. He is an ambitious artist. I loved his 2009 action sci-fi film Gamer. His television show Happy! and 2006 film Crank have been widely praised. He likes to push the envelope, and Mom and Dad is no exception.
He sets the scene with the introduction of the Ryan family. The tension between them is palpable from the beginning. Their morning routine is painful to watch. Mom has her ‘mother resents teenage daughter flying the emotional coup’ jaw clench on lock. Dad looks like he’s already ready to smash in a child’s skull. Kid Brother is throwing racist comments at the housekeeper. Teenage Girl is pouty and the expected product of her self-hating family. It’s cooked.
The best thing Taylor does for his film is choose the right type of comedy. He opts for satire and irony over obvious slapstick, which often befalls the horror comedy genre. The use of irony in the film is spectacular. Can you imagine trying to kill your kids and have them fight back with a gun found in the house, only to then yell at your partner for having a gun in a house because “…one in five children and adolescent injuries involve firearms.” Brilliant.
Mom and Dad builds mood well in the first act. Early on there is a scene where parents horde around the school. They stand calmly, waiting outside the window. They stare through the glass at their children inside with murder in their eyes. It is insanely unsettling. As the audience, you so desperately want it to be funny. When chaos breaks out, you want to be able to find the humour to placate the sense of abject horror growing in the pit of your stomach. There is no relief though. Kudos to Taylor for not chickening out; he went all in.
The trend right now is to make horror meaningful. More accurately, it’s about making horror overtly meaningful. Horror has always been symbolic, but these days we like that symbolism dealt with a little more conspicuously. That’s fine. Everyone wants to be woke af and make a statement. I get it. Mom and Dad, beyond being about the Rage Parent Chaos, is about the repressed anger and the resentment people feel about having to ‘grow up’ and become ‘Real Life Adults.’ And, according to the film’s philosophy, those emotions are made stronger by having children. We love you kids, but…
In a three-weeks-ago scene we see some of this pent-up anger the parents hide. I was waiting for this particular scene as it was in the trailer. I thought it was in the context of a Rage Parent episode. Wrong. Apparently, smashing your house up while singing children’s songs is just what straight, white married people do????? I live with straight, white married people, so I for one, am both SHOCKED and CONCERNED.
Taylor makes a clear statement about growing up in Mom and Dad. It makes me want to know what his relationship with his own folks is like, tbh. It also makes me feel slightly more okay about my fear and utter dismay about the concept of adulthood.
With a story like this, the make or break is in the class of acting. Mom and Dad are Selma Blair and Nicholas Cage. Blair is well cast. She’s good at creepy and unnerving. Her face can hold emotions of rage and resentment with subtle beauty. She’s perfect for the role. Cage though… He’s just a fucking memelord that not only ruined the cinematic masterpiece that is The Wicker Man (1973) with his 2006 remake featuring BEES for fuck’s sake, but has been charged with domestic violence IRL. Not entirely relevant to this review but definitely important to mention. In Mom and Dad, he is too comical to be taken seriously. Like Blair, he has proven he can do deranged and enraged. However, any moments where he isn’t those, he’s… just a fucking joke. Cage has no handle on subtly and his performance is void of any of the nuances satire calls for.
The cast also includes Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur as the Ryan children. They both hold their own and feel authentic in their roles. The supporting characters are the usual suspects. Pretty friend. Black boyfriend. Chinese housekeeper. They serve their purpose but not much more. I do want to mention the teacher that tries his hardest to, you know, educate the (future-victim) teens. He’s legitmately funny in class and obviously takes his role as a protector for the kids very seriously. He leaves an impression, despite the little screen time he gets. Shout out to Joseph D. Reitman. You’re the real MVP.
Mom and Dad tries very hard to be cool, borrowing cinematic techniques from all genres and eras. The consequence of this is not that it creates its own style and personality. Instead, it just feels very scattered. The editing is super choppy (a la The Cornetto Trilogy), but as the film continues it mellows out. This is a modern technique and in contrast, the opening title sequence is reminiscent of 80s horror film. While that’s cool as fuck, it feels ill-designed. Even the soundtrack is not consistent, adding to the scattered effect.
The final act is chaotic, to say the least, but it is where the bulk of the ‘comedy’ is. Getting to that point feels like mercy after such a fucking bleak film. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but the word of the day is ‘childbirth,’ guys. The ending scenes are so different to the beginning of the film. This is true not only for the tone, but for the muted colours used and the close up camera shots. It’s darker and softer, which is symbolic in its own way.
There is so much left unexplained in the film. Screen time was given to mayhem and brutality over exposition. We see static screens and sound before parents turn homicidal, but the source and science are never explored. Kid Brother is of school age, yet he spends his day running around the house in a onesie. Is he sick? What’s up with that? The housekeeper also brings her daughter to work. Why is she not at school? Teenage Girl’s boyfriend is Black, and Dad ain’t loving him. Is there racial motivation there? Taylor opts for mystery, but it just feels entirely unsatisfying. Also, why is there so many unnecessary flashbacks in the third act? Way to kill the momentum.
Mom and Dad works as horror because it is unflinching and truly upsetting. It has something to say about the real world and delivers my favourite type of crazy – deranged – by the truckload. It works as a comedy because it is ironic and relatable. Nothing is dumbed down, so to speak. Yet, the elements of the film work against each other rather than melting into something great. It aims high but just doesn’t quite make it.
3.5 out of 5 Helen Lovejoys.