Spoiler Central: Let's Talk About That Twist In 'Mom And Dad'
Mom and Dad has been out for over a month now (Kristy reviewed it back in September), but it’s a tough film to talk about. Not because it’s cerebral, or politically charged. Oh no — at least, not intentionally. Frankly the whole movie feels like a 10-minute flash fiction writing exercise blown up for the big screen. But, well… after certain recent events, the idea of discussing a movie about parents attempting to murder their children is daunting. There’s a scene where a young boy finds and plays with his father’s handgun. There’s a whole sequence where parents attack their own kids in a school. This speculative little romp written & directed by Brian Taylor (one half of the duo behind Crank) and starring Nic Cage was always going to be walking a fine line when it comes to taste. Unfortunately, in light of the national dialogue around gun control and school safety in the days since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that “fine line” has dwindled down to nothing, and it’s almost impossible to watch to movie and not think about the adults who are prioritizing weapons over children right this very minute.
Which is a shame. Because there is a helluva surprise waiting in the third act that I’d like to discuss, and it is blissfully child-free. So if you’re up for it, read on for some SPOILERS…
If you’ve seen the movie, then you may have had the same experience I did during the opening credit sequence: a satisfied little smile and murmur of excitement seeing Lance Henriksen’s name pop up. An excitement that I promptly forgot as the film began in earnest. The plot may be nothing more than the log line (again, “parents suddenly want to kill their kids”) rinsed and repeated over the course of an hour and a half, but to Taylor’s credit the suspense ratchets up at a smooth pace. Soon enough, I had forgotten that I should be expecting to see Henriksen appear. I was too busy waiting to see when Nic Cage’s Brent and Selma Blair’s Kendall would succumb to the mysterious static signal and go after their children.
After a violent stand-off leads to bullet-wounded Blair, a burnt Cage, a gas explosion in the basement, and some still very much not-dead kids, I was lulled into assuming the endgame would simply continue along the same lines until someone was dead and/or the house was completely destroyed. But then the doorbell rang.
You see, earlier in the film it was mentioned that Brent’s parents would be coming for dinner that night. But the day’s worth of escalating insanity meant that the arrival of the grandparents felt like as much of a surprise to me as it did to Brent and Kendall. So when they open to door to reveal Lance fucking Henriksen, standing there with Marilyn Dodds Frank, it was like the other shoe dropped and kicked me in the side of the head.
Parents want to kill their kids. But there is nothing in the completely-unexplained rules of the plot that says the “kids” need to be children.
And sure enough, Brent’s elderly parents set out to slaughter their son, and even his wife if she gets in their way — not to protect their grandkids, but out of the same mysterious urge that was driving Brent and Kendall. It pushes the climax into Looney Tunes territory, with a coyote chasing a coyote chasing a roadrunner, but that’s ok because in the end the most cartoonish violence of the film is against the grandparents. They die, Brent and Kendall get tied up, and the kids survive… at least until the credits roll.
What I liked about the twist is that it wasn’t really a twist at all. The logic was obvious — the surprise came because the film was successful in distracting you from thinking it through. At no point up until the doorbell rang was there any hint of adults being targeted by their own parents, so as a viewer I was sufficiently absorbed in worrying about the children. That, honestly, was suspenseful enough. So when the dynamic finally shifts, you find yourself rooting for the same unsettling violence that you’d been squeamishly enduring up to that point. No, watching mothers attempt to smother their newborns isn’t fun. But watching Lance Henriksen try to kill Nicolas Cage? It was the perfect catharsis.
Look, I’m not saying this is a great film, and I’m certainly not saying the time is right to give it a shot. But Nic Cage claims it’s his favorite film he’s made in the past 10 years, and I can see why. It’s almost experimental in its form and the way it tests its boundaries. There isn’t much in the way of resolution, and you never really know how or why it’s all happening, but in the end I was OK with that. Because with that twist, and with the performances and choices that led up to it, Mom and Dad managed to surprise me. And that’s an experience I’ll always welcome.