Some of the key duties that come with being a parent include raising one’s children to be responsible adults and protecting them along the way. This is why the setup for “Mom and Dad,” a horror tale from writer-director Brian Taylor works so well. The film revolves around parents all over the country finding themselves with the insatiable desire to kill their own children, and only their children, no one else’s.
Starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as parents Brent and Kendall Ryan, “Mom and Dad” isn’t big on offering reasons for this sudden murderous impulse, just on it occurring. What the film gives instead of such details are the various ways that the Ryan’s children, Carly (Anne Winters) and Joshua (Zackary Arthur), try to thwart off these attempts and fight back not only their own fears, but also the two people who brought them into the world and have done their best to raise them in a stable, loving, environment as well.
Virtually everything other than the establishment of this idea works poorly. The film is billed as a “pitch-black horror-comedy,” but the only bits that are remotely funny involve Cage’s over-the-top antics, and those have been seen elsewhere through the years, and to far better effect at that. Blair is fun as she makes the switch from caring to killer, though some moments with her character feel forced, and fun and funny aren’t exactly the same.
As for scares, there is no doubt that Taylor’s initial idea is terrifying for all involved – both parents and children will have pause at the idea that there is any power in this world that could cause such horrific bloodlust. However, the cat-and-mouse moments between the two generations here lack logic on both sides. This is a horror movie where those watching will be able to come up with a half-dozen ways the parents could do a better job offing their children and the same number of ways the kids could do a better job escaping.
On top of that, Taylor has chosen to add multiple flashbacks to the film. At first a viewer might think one is a daydream and another is playing out in real time, but eventually it becomes clear what is actually taking place. Then, for no particular reason, one flashback offers text saying exactly how long ago it occurred. Why the others aren’t given the same treatment is unclear. Why the first flashback doesn’t get a time is equally unclear. It is incredibly perplexing and quite jarring.
The whole point of the movie seems to be an acknowledgment that there are moments when parents, as much as they might love being parents, need a break from the responsibilities of being a parent, and that maybe not everyone in this world is cutout for the job. There is certainly cleverness in taking that seed and growing and shaping it into something quite disturbing, but all too regularly “Mom and Dad” comes up short in the exploration. Or, perhaps, it goes too far in the exploration too quickly. There is no build-up, it is instantly moved from parents loving children (and all that comes with that, including disappointments in one’s own actions) to killing. Once there, the movie has nowhere else to go.
I enjoy the idea that “Mom and Dad” is uninterested in offering an explanation of why this killing is taking place, but doing that, too, cuts off an avenue of exploration. Without exploration, what the audience is left with is just a series of attempts by the parents to kill and the children to escape. And, as noted, neither the adults nor the kids seem particularly adept at their respective tasks.
There are a couple of moments in the film when it feels as though Taylor may decide to end up tackling other topics, including racism (Carly has an African-American boyfriend) and alcoholism, but these ideas quickly fall by the wayside. The film might make feints towards them, but like the parents it depicts, it is mainly interested in blood.
Mercifully, and maybe because there is nothing to explore, “Mom and Dad” is a short film, running under 90 minutes in total. Certainly, by the time the credits run, those watching will not only be done with the premise, but the action as well.
photo credit: Momentum Pictures