“It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.”
That heartfelt quote is from South African Philosopher David Benatar’s work, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. I haven’t read the whole thing. I’ve read a bunch of quotes from it on Google though, and I think I get the picture. In the book, Benatar essentially argues that the planet would be better off without human beings, and that bringing a child into the world does not benefit the child in any way, and is a selfish act by it’s parents. It’s a real bummer! And it’s a pretty bleak view on human existence that is shared with Brian Taylor’s (One half of the team behind THE CRANK MOVIES!) new film, MOM AND DAD.
MOM AND DAD introduces us to a dysfunctional family from the suburbs. The Mom, Kendall, (Selma Blair) is having a hard time coping with reaching middle age: She’s not connecting with her teenage daughter, she’s distant with her husband, and we see her attending dance classes in an attempt to rekindle her modeling career–a way to recapture the part of her she feels that she has lost. The Dad, Brent, (Nicholas Cage) is going through a mid-life crisis of his own; exemplified by his fantasies of doing donuts in his trans-am with a topless girl on his lap, and well, everything else that he does. Both parents lament the loss of the people they used to be, or at least the people they think they used to be, while trying to raise two children of their own: A hyperactive young boy, Josh, and a rebellious and moody teenage girl, Carly.
MOM AND DAD works because, much like Taylor’s CRANK films, it moves at a frenetic, break-neck pace, particularly early on. Where this movie differs from those films, is in its character work. That’s not to say the CRANK movies didn’t have strong character work–I think Chev Chelios is a one of the more memorable characters of the aughts–but MOM AND DAD introduces us to a group of characters that while self-involved, and selfish, at least have their hearts in the right place. After a scene later in the film where Cage’s character has one of his trademark meltdowns–singing the hokey pokey and destroying a pool table in what he refuses to call his man-cave–the movie pauses in its tracks for a scene between Brent and Kendall, where the two characters share a touching heart-to-heart about the dreams they had, and the dreams they’ve lost due to becoming parents. It’s a nice blend of CRANK/Cage insanity, as well as actual pathos, and It’s probably the strongest scene in the movie, showcasing a maturity that is missing from a lot of Taylor’s past work.
Where MOM AND DAD excels most is in the first half of the film, particularly when its exploring its premise: An unknown signal that is being transmitted through television and radio telling parents to kill their own children. Not all children, mind you, just their own. The movie likens this to the condition of “savaging” among pigs, where the mother shows aggressive behavior towards her offspring through attacking, crushing, or even killing her own piglets. It’s an interesting concept for a horror film, and while the film never dives too deep beneath the surface, there are some moments of exploration within MOM AND DAD.
Human beings have a death wish. This is a theme prevalent throughout many horror movies, particularly films dealing with the apocalypse, or movies like MOM AND DAD that deal with an out of control infection. Part of humanity’s obsession with these things stems from an arrogance and a desire to be the last generation, and MOM AND DAD plays with that idea effectively. When the characters change, and become obsessed with killing their children, they still retain much of their personality traits from before. Brent and Kendall are still dealing with their own insecurities as they try to kill Carly and Josh. By ending the world of their offspring, the parents of MOM AND DAD gain the sense of control that they have lost due to having aged to what they see as their own insignificance. It’s an incredibly human idea at its core. Every generation of humans feels like it’s the most important generation ever, and by killing their children, Brent and Kendall, and the other parents in the film, gain a sense of purpose that overcomes what they see as pointlessness in the vast and ever-changing world around them. In their eyes, they made the world their kids are ruining, now it’s up to them to end it.
Most of MOM AND DAD’s marketing and press materials seem to be centered around Nicholas Cage CUTTING LOOSE, but I don’t know, I think at times he’s almost reserved here. Sure, he’s manic, and crazy, and Cage-y, but there are scenes like the pool table demolishing scene, that show something deeper within his performance. MOM AND DAD is probably one of his strongest performance in quite a while. Maybe. I don’t know. He makes a ton of movies.
While most of the things I’ve seen about the movie revolve around Nicholas Cage, to me, Selma Blair stands out as the movies strong point in terms of performances. The maternal nature of Kendall shines through even in the characters self-involved, and demeaning moments, like a scene where she flirts with an icky photographer to regain some of what she sees as her past pride. It’s a tricky task to pull off– making you care about a character as self-involved as Kendall, especially in a movie as wacky as this one– but Blair provides a humanity to these moments, and is the heart of MOM AND DAD.
Those are the most intriguing aspects of MOM AND DAD, and most of them occur in the first half of the film. MOM AND DAD loses quite a bit of momentum in its second half, as it transitions from the break-neck pace of its set-up to what is essentially a home invasion movie where Brent and Kendall try to hunt down their children in their own house. Also, while the movie features some decent character work among its core characters, it falters with a few of its side characters. The family’s Chinese maid is played for an unoriginal joke about her race early in the film and never transcends that, and the same can be said for the character of Damon, Carly’s African-American boyfriend. The movie, by design, moves so quickly that it never takes the time to add much depth to these characters, and ends up being unintentionally unsettling in the scenes they are in.
MOM AND DAD’S unique premise, and energy, help overcome its flaws, and Cage and Blair are good enough to help balance their characters less-endearing traits. But what works best about MOM AND DAD, is the idea that there might not be anything scarier than the idea of a generation so arrogant, and self-involved, that it’s hell-bent on being the world’s last.