The opening credits sequence of Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad (which begins a weeklong run at Facets tonight) is meant to resemble something out of a 1970s exploitation movie, with split-screen effects, colored filters, and a Dusty Springfield ballad on the soundtrack. This homage is appropriate, as the film feels like an update of a couple superior exploitation movies of that decade, George A. Romero’s The Crazies (1973) and Russ Meyer’s Supervixens (1975). Mom and Dad recalls Crazies in its premise, which finds an American everytown infected by a plague that turns people into homicidal maniacs, and in its critique of the nuclear family, which it depicts as a locus of violence. Like Supervixens, the film is a fast-paced, violent cartoon with elements of broad satire. Taylor is about as subtle a director as Meyer was, but, as with Meyer, he displays a certain artistry in his quick cutting and manipulation of tone.
With former partner Mark Neveldine, Taylor directed the Jason Statham action comedy Crank and its sequel, the abrasive and occasionally inspired Gamer, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. These films exhibit a consistent aesthetic and worldview that my colleague Ignatiy Vishnevetsky once compared to Mad magazine in the 1950s. Targeting the crassest, most tasteless elements of American life, they are deliberately as crass and tasteless as the things they lampoon, yet they’re also exuberant and creative, featuring detail-packed frames and lots of crazy camera movement. Mom and Dad continues in the mode of Taylor’s collaborations with Neveldine: the film is at once vulgar and sharp, the garish horror-comedy providing a vehicle for Taylor’s thoughts on all that’s ugly in the “normal” American family.
Even before the plague hits the town, the characters of Mom and Dad seem ready to enact violence on one another. Mother Kendall (Selma Blair) and teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters) barely communicate, and when they do, it’s to air resentments at each other. Father Brent (Nicolas Cage), trapped at a job he hates, secretly resents everyone in his family for his unhappy life. Carly and her fellow students view their teachers apathetically and think only about cell phones and drugs. Taylor introduces all this in a matter of minutes; his dialogue is blunt, terse, and effective. The characters reveal deep secrets about themselves right away—they may be live-action cartoons, but they still have anxieties (about aging, sex, and death), and this makes them relatable on a basic level.
The central joke of the film is that the plague only exacerbates violent feelings that parents already feel for their children. Taylor finds enough ways to tell that joke to sustain interest the remaining hour of the film, though readers should be warned that some of these variations can be rather sick. In one passage, Taylor satirizes the act of childbirth, showing a new mother attempt to kill her child immediately after giving birth to it. (The birth is presented in graphic and colorful detail, as are many of the murders—the influence of Romero can be felt in the film’s vivid gore.) In another, Cage and Blair attempt to murder their two children by turning their suburban basement into a gas chamber. The in-your-face close-ups and loud, unexpected bursts of music, which range from Reagan Youth to Erik Satie, make the content seem even more provocative.
Blair grounds the film with her understated, self-effacing performance, while Cage is employed like a special effect. In one extended flashback, Cage lovingly assembles a pool table in his basement, mugging for the camera all the while, then demolishes it with a sledgehammer after Blair accuses him of spending too much money on it. (He sings “The Hokey Pokey” while smashing the table, which adds another element of forced weirdness.) Once the table’s been destroyed, Cage launches into a monologue about his disgust for his aging body and his inability to live up to the goals he set for himself as a young man. The sincerity of Cage’s delivery may be the weirdest part of this scene, if not the entire movie. It conveys a pathos that offsets the surrounding jokiness.