Schlock Art is where truly tasteless, gleefully grotesque and insanely inventive works of genre cinema are celebrated with unironic fervor. Every other week, we highlight a title available for streaming you may have overlooked. This week, we worship at the altar of Nicolas Cage with Brian Taylor’s parental satire Mom and Dad.
Widely available on VOD services (Amazon, iTunes, etc).
It’s hard out here for a Nicolas Cage fan. During the last 10 years, the ever-prolific actor / indentured servant for the IRS has released over 30 films. Of those 30, maybe three can be said to legitimately approach greatness.
And yet, Cage has never ceased to fascinate me.
This is someone who, in the same year, will sleep his way through the prototypical DTV dreck of The Frozen Ground only to then carry David Gordon Green’s Joe with one of the most nuanced character portrayals of his career. That’s because every once in a while, a filmmaker of formidable skill will decide to use the Cage’s powers for good. Enter writer / director Brian Taylor: one-half of the filmmaking duo Neveldine / Taylor, most known for the gonzo action of their Crank films. Taylor, who previously collaborated with Cage in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, brings an amphetamine rush of energy to his work that actors are required to match. In other words, he and Cage are perfect for one another.
Taylor’s latest, Mom and Dad, is a straightforward and unique spin on the zombie premise, in which parents across the globe decide to start murdering their children. The film wisely ditches any superfluous explanation as to the cause and instead focuses on its two greatest assets: sharp suburban satire and the type of Cage performance of which memes are made.
Mom and Dad opens with a credit sequence that seems to place it squarely within the confines of grindhouse pastiche such as Planet Terror or Machete. With Dusty Springfield’s voice crooning over grainy title cards, it at first seems Taylor has traded in his singular aesthetic in favor of a dull Lucio Fulci retread. Luckily, once the film starts proper, it’s clear Taylor’s intentions are more artful than simple mimicry.
Our titular parents, played beautifully by Cage and Selma Blair, have spawned two spoiled offspring in the form of a self-centered teenage girl and a bratty preteen boy. In the first of many astute touches, the movie initially paints the parents as victims. Brent, once your classic Big Man on Campus, feels stifled by routine and suburban complacency. Hip-hop workout classes can’t seem to shake Kendall’s deep sense of loneliness and detachment from the children she’s devoted her life to upbringing.
Therefore, when a swarm of parents try to storm the local high school and murder their progeny, it raises the notion that this could be a response to the lack of fulfillment Dr. Phil-style child-rearing has brought them. While the rest of Mom and Dad chronicles the two kids’ efforts to escape their rabid parents, it’s evident that this murderous epidemic is the parents’ own attempt at escape.
Which leads us to the heart of the matter. The reason any self-respecting filmgoer would choose to seek out this surprisingly smart flick is, of course, a foaming-at-the-mouth Nic Cage performance. Cage’s mega-acting has become a cornerstone of ironic Reddit worship over the past decade thanks to his outright bizarre turns in everything from The Wicker Man remake to Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. It speaks to the man’s singular magnetism that his method hasn’t devolved into tired shtick. Mom and Dad is a case study in how captivating it is to watch Cage obliterate a movie’s scenery with lunatic abandon.
Indeed, there is a bottomless well of breathtaking Cage quirk to behold here. The moment that will undoubtedly go down in legend is when the actor smashes a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing the Hokey Pokey, and sure, that sequence is just as transcendent as you’d imagine. But the entire performance ends up being the best he’s had in years. From screaming at a teenager about porn to pontificating on the nature of a Sawzall, Cage is at his most unhinged, and it will no doubt be heaven for fans of his inimitable brand.
Cage’s role as Brent would be all for naught, however, if it weren’t for the relentless pacing and freneticism that Taylor provides in his direction. At a lean 82 minutes, this is no-frills schlock at its finest. Similar to the Crank films, the whole affair is sprinkled with memorable idiosyncrasies that make it a cut above its like-minded ilk. The way graphic violence is interspersed with idyllic flashbacks of parent/child bonding is particularly satisfying.
With the zombie genre at peak cultural saturation, even a horror freak like myself has a difficult time maintaining any enthusiasm for it. Yet this is the only example I can think of where the infected are entirely coherent and self-aware. Nothing’s changed about them save for one minor detail: They really want to murder their kids. It’s touches like that as well as the twisted and clever satire that makes Mom and Dad such a pleasure. If the hype surrounding Panos Cosmatos’s upcoming Mandy is to be believed, 2018 may just be remembered as the year Cage got his groove back.