By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Filmmaker Brian Taylor first guided Nicolas Cage through the superheroics of GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (with co-director Mark Neveldine, his partner on the CRANK films), and now he and Cage have reteamed on the horror/comedy MOM & DAD. RUE MORGUE landed an exclusive chat with Taylor about his family frightfest.
Arriving in select theaters and on VOD and digital HD tomorrow, January 19 from Momentum Pictures, MOM & DAD casts Cage and Selma Blair as Brent and Kendall, a suburban married couple who are reaching the breaking point of frustration with their lives as suburban parents to teenager Carly (Anne Winters) and young son Josh (Zackary Arthur). That buried parental resentment violently erupts when they—along with the rest of the area’s parents—are afflicted with a mysterious mass hysteria that causes them to turn homicidally against their children. Applying the manic cinematic style he and Neveldine brought to the CRANK duo, Taylor, who also scripted MOM & DAD (and created the current Syfy series HAPPY!), finds a perfect balance between gruesome horror, pitch-black humor and suburban satire.
Are you a parent yourself, and if so, how did that feed into your approach to MOM & DAD?
I am a parent, so tapping into those anxieties was no problem at all! I think every parent has experienced facing the reality that Brent and Kendall do in the movie. We all get to a point where we realize that all the things we thought we were don’t really matter anymore, and we’re only here for one purpose, which is to serve these little monsters [laughs]. It’s a great job to have, but we also have other jobs that we thought our lives would be about. So there’s a simultaneous thing that happens with parenthood where you realize, “Wow, this is the whole reason I’m here,” but at the same time, it also makes you irrelevant in a way.
It’s interesting that you used the phrase “little monsters”; there’s a long tradition of horror films where children turn against their parents, but not so many where the reverse takes place. It’s kind of a taboo subject that has only been explored in a few films like THE BABADOOK. Was there a sense of pushing into transgressive territory with MOM AND DAD?
Yeah, somewhat. My goal is to do things that are original, and that I haven’t seen before, and I’m very happy when I come up with an idea that hasn’t really been done. It feels great, but pretty soon, I realize why it has never been done, because it’s not as easy to pull off as one might think. I loved THE BABADOOK, but I didn’t want MOM & DAD to be a harrowing experience like that was. I wanted it to be more of a fun popcorn movie that surprises you with moments of poignancy.
But that was a challenge, because in movies where you’re killing grown-ups, it’s almost like there are no limits to what you can do. But in this case, we had to be careful while still making it scary, and it’s more about the threat of violence than the actual act. It’s different for different people; we had a midnight screening at Fantastic Fest in Austin, and the first thing I said to the audience was, “Now, I know you guys all wanted us to kill more kids…” [laughs] and they went crazy. It was a delicate line to adhere to.
You do go over the top with the camerawork and visuals in MOM & DAD; how did you keep the tone consistent and fresh throughout the film?
Well, you can tell by watching anything I’ve done that the concept of tone is somewhat alien to me. I tend to be a little tone-agnostic; I’m perfectly happy to do a straight dramatic scene that goes into something utterly ridiculous that goes into something terrifying that goes into something funny. I’m a big fan of just letting moments be what they want to be, and not try to force them in any one direction. That said, I believe the movie does have a glue that holds it all together, and that is the performances by Selma and Nic. They’re able to walk that line between heart-wrenching and absurd very well—effortlessly, really. They completely got it, so to be able to work with those two, and have them be on the same page with what I was doing…if the movie works, that’s why it works.
Cage is known for bringing a certain insanity to his performances, so this is a perfect vehicle for him. Was there ever anyone else you had in mind for Brent?
There was the idea that we could cast the part with a traditional American-dad kind of guy, and then give him the room to go crazy. But that seemed to be a boring take on the role. Cage takes any movie, and especially this one, to places you couldn’t even imagine. In this case, I could imagine [laughs], but he definitely takes you on a journey. He’s so perfect for it. There are a lot of actors who could play the first part of the movie, no problem, but then when Brent goes nuts, they’d really have to push to get there.
With Cage, it was sort of the opposite. He had a lot of ideas like, “What if I did the whole movie in the Robert Reed wig from THE BRADY BUNCH?” [Laughs] So inevitably, it was more like, “We have to sell you as a straight dad in the first half of the movie.” Maybe a little crazy, because all dads go a little crazy—there are only so many Fruit Roll-Ups you can eat off the floor of your car before you start to lose it. The challenge was setting him up as normal enough in the beginning so that when he goes nuts in the middle, it has impact.
Was there ever a point where you had to rein him in?
Well, this was my second time making a movie with him, and when I first met him, I realized he was sort of like a brother. We get each other, in a really strange way, and working with him feels different from working with other actors. I wouldn’t describe it as reining him in; it’s more like he has so many ideas, and he’s such a wild bull, that you can’t tame him, because then you end up with a performance that feels uncommitted. You wouldn’t even want to tame him; you want all that energy, you want all that creativity, you want all those ideas. It’s just a question of steering him in a direction and giving him the proper outlet. Like, “The instinct is correct, it just needs to be in that scene instead of this scene.” Or sometimes, the instinct is clearly unhinged and off the rails, and probably not the right one. But most of the time, we’re completely on the same page, and it’s just a matter of translating it.
This is an atypical role for Blair; what led you to cast her?
Ever since Selma Blair auditioned for CRANK, back in 2005 or ’06 or something like that, I’ve always wanted to work with her. Selma’s a really good actor, but I don’t think I actually knew how good she was until we did MOM & DAD. Every bit as much as Nic, I couldn’t imagine making this film with anybody else. I don’t think anyone else could have gone in so many different directions, and under a very tight shooting schedule. We were jamming on this thing, and so to have her going from zero to 60, sometimes in a matter of minutes, was amazing to watch. I was really grateful to have her on the movie.
It’s so much fun to see Lance Henriksen come in for the later scenes. Can you talk about bringing him on board?
There’s a whole generation of actors who are legends to a guy like me, so casting that role was a fun process. There are so many great names from that era where I was like, “Man, it would be great to just walk on set with that guy.” Lance was one of those guys I grew up with who has a special place in the pantheon, especially in genre cinema. So I was excited to get him, and when he showed up, I was just geeking out. It was a lot of fun.
Any chance you’ll get back together with Neveldine to make CRANK 3?
You never know. I talk to Neveldine all the time, and we’re still really close. Right now I’m working on HAPPY! for Syfy, and that’s pretty much taking up all of my time, but we’ll see. Who would have ever thought that Trump would be president? So obviously CRANK 3 is not completely out of the realm of possibility.