20 March 2018

Mom and Dad review

"Brilliant!" I hear you say through the microphone(s) I've hidden on your person, "a film where parents are driven to kill their children by a mysterious radio transmission? Starring Nicholas Cage, written and directed by the guy behind the Crank films? This is going to be a blast!"

Well not so fast, my clueless friend. Your line of reasoning makes sense - it's always fun when Nicholas Cage goes full Nicholas Cage, and the idea of seeing that happen in a film about child murder that's written and directed by Brian Taylor is an exciting one - but there are two pretty fundamental problems at the heart of Mom and Dad that stop it from ever being the film you think it might be. The first is simple: Nicholas Cage is the main reason that most people will want to see Mom and Dad, but there are large stretches of it that he's entirely absent from, presumably because the film doesn't have a high enough budget to pay Cage's fee throughout. The second is... a little more complicated.

You see, Mom and Dad's answer to these Cage-free stretches sees it taking the premise seriously and showing us what a world in which parents suddenly want to murder their children might be like, which at least at first really works. There are scenes early on that are genuinely fantastic, easily building tension and ramping up the threat as the camera pans over a dead-eyed, zombie-like horde of parents waiting outside the room in which their children are taking exams, or gathering at the gates of the local school while attempting to lure their young children to their deaths with promises of ice cream and toys. But when the tension snaps and all hell breaks loose, one thing quickly becomes apparent: at some point during production, someone suddenly realised that you simply can't show innocent children being brutally murdered on-screen by their parents. You can imply it, and you can threaten the audience with it, but actually showing it would be a step too far - which places Mom and Dad, a film explicitly about child murder, in something of an uncomfortable position.

The result? A film that's (quite rightly) unwilling to commit to its premise but doesn't really have anything else to offer, making it not just tasteless but also oddly toothless as well. There is just one exception to this uncomfortable compromise, a scene in which Selma Blair's Kendall (the titular Mom) tries to stop her sister from crushing her new born baby to death - and it's so deeply harrowing that I was angry for the rest of the movie for having been forced to go through it, handily proving my point that while people might think they want to see what Mom and Dad sets out to offer, they really don't.

Which means it's only really in the last twenty minutes or so of its relatively short 87 minute running time (which feels a lot longer) that Mom and Dad becomes the bizarre and over-the-top Nicholas Cage movie that we all expected it would be. In fairness, I'd be lying if I said that this section didn't manage to put a smile on my face, a reverse-Home Alone scenario that everyone seems to having a lot of fun with and includes what may well be Nicholas Cage's biggest, loudest performance in years (at one point we watch as he destroys a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing the Hokey-Cokey, for God's sake), but you still have to wonder if this short section can really make up for the at times shocking but mostly just quite boring hour that preceded it, especially when it feels like it may as well come from a different film entirely.

Put it this way: you can make a film in which Nicholas Cage goes full Nicholas Cage, barking like a dog as he chases his son around the house in attempt to murder him while Erasure's "Chains of Love" plays in the background. And you can make a film that contains the aforementioned newborn baby crushing scene, even if you probably shouldn't. But it would take a masterful film-maker to make these scenes work together as part of the same movie, and with all the will in the world, that's just not Brian Taylor. Entertaining at times? Yes, and almost enough to trick you into thinking you've been entertained consistently throughout. But ultimately, while we knew from the off that Mom and Dad was never going to be a genuinely good film, it doesn't even have the good grace to be entertainingly bad - and with a premise like this, that's pretty inexcusable.

2 stars

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