Tom Beasley chats to high-octane director Brian Taylor about his new film Mom and Dad, which features Nicolas Cage at his most Nicolas Cage…
Fans of Nicolas Cage at his nuttiest may have a new favourite movie when Mom and Dad screams its way into multiplexes this weekend. Directed by Brian Taylor, who previously worked with Cage in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance along with filmmaking partner Mark Neveldine, it’s a crazy tale of parents driven to attack and kill their children when a bizarre hysteria takes hold of their suburban neighbourhood.
Cage and Hellboy actress Selma Blair are two of those parents, who come up against kids with some Home Alone know-how that makes it more of a fair fight than you’d expect. If that sounds like a tough sell – and it does – then you won’t envy Taylor, who got on the phone with Flickering Myth for a chat about the movie, from Cage to well… Cage again.
I think it’s fair to say right off the bat that Mom and Dad is an absolutely bonkers film, so where did the idea come from for you and how did you go about putting the whole thing together?
Well, I’m a parent. [laughs] What else do you need to know? For a guy like me, I’m always trying to find that idea that hasn’t been done before and the movie that you haven’t seen. This was definitely an idea where I said: “Man, this is great. I’ve never seen this movie before. It’s totally original.”
But the problem is sometimes you find out why it has never been done before, really quickly, and this was definitely one of those cases. You think you have come up with this fun and original idea and you start telling people about it. My son’s first reaction, I think, was “dad, what the fuck’s the matter with you?” and I think our agents had the same reaction.
It’s one of those things where, when you describe the plot of the movie out of context, it can seem beyond dark, like ‘this movie is going to ruin my life’ kind of dark and ‘maybe, I’m not up for an experience like that’ kind of dark. But I knew that’s not really what it was. There’s a lot of satire. The movie is not so much about parents killing kids, but it’s about the frustrations and delusions of the parents, as well as the crazy place they find their lives in.
It’s more that kind of content the movie is really about and the final experience will be more like a fun rollercoaster ride, not like a super-dark, gnarly movie. It’s an idea that’s definitely hard, out of context, to express.
You alluded to the whole concept being a tough one to judge on a thematic and tonal level. Were you ever worried you had taken elements of it too far, or even not far enough?
Absolutely. That was a major thing in this movie that I have never really experienced before. Most of the time, my answer to how far will I take it is “how far will you let me take it?” but in this particular case, there definitely was a line. You didn’t exactly know where the line was and it would move around from scene to scene, but there definitely felt like there was a line and, if you crossed that line, you were going to lose the audience and they were going to hate us and they were going to never come back.
A good example of that is the childbirth scene in the hospital. In the script, that scene was a lot harsher. It was awful. I kinda got scared of that and thought I had to be careful, because I didn’t want that scene to make the movie unwatchable and have people never get to the fun stuff that happens in the second act. So we actually shot the scene much softer than what you saw, but then when it was done and we screened it, I realised that the original script was way too far, but the way we shot it was not far enough. I went back and did reshoots to try to get it right up to that line, to where you can see the other side of the line, but we don’t jump over it. Hopefully, we found the right balance where some audience members love it and other ones are looking through their fingers trying not to see.
At the end of the day, it was definitely a factor and it was a factor at every stage to consider what was too far and what was not far enough.
Speaking of right up to the line, one of the main attractions of this movie is Nicolas Cage going full Nicolas Cage. It feels like only he could have done this role. How did he become involved and was there anyone else in the frame?
He was the first guy I sent it to and this is the classic, perfect Nic Cage role, I think. It allows him to do the bonkers stuff, but it also allows him in the first half of the movie to convey a simple, everyday, mundane madness of parenthood, which I like even more. Both he and Selma Blair have a perfect quality for these characters, which is that you can dress them up as conservative, suburban mainstream parents but you can tell with both of them that, underneath that, they’re punk rock and they’re just ill-chosen for these roles as parents.
That’s really what the movie is about. These parents woke up one day in these lives that they don’t recognise and they look in the mirror and see people they don’t recognise. Then the sort of resentment they have underneath it all. They love their kids. None of this is about the kids. They didn’t do anything wrong. The kids are good kids and they don’t deserve this, but it’s not about them at all. It’s about this resentment that the parents have that as soon as they came along, they lost their soul. Nic and Selma, I think, were both perfect for it for that reason.
I’m intrigued to know if everything that Nic Cage did was in the script or if he brought anything of himself to it?
He brought a lot. He personalised it a lot. I mean, the ‘Hokey Pokey’ was all Nic.
I watched that scene and I thought “I bet that was his idea”…
The thing about Nic that people don’t realise is that, although he gets a reputation for being over-the-top and bonkers and crazy, that’s sort of inaccurate. He is one of the most thoughtful, precise and disciplined actors you will ever meet. Everything he does is under control, even when it seems like he’s out of control. He thinks it all through and he knows exactly what he’s going for. The precision of what he does is kind of amazing.
The ‘Hokey Pokey’ was one of things where he brought it in and said he had an idea. It was born of the fact he hates that song. Every time he hears that song, it drive him bananas, and he thought it was a perfect way to channel that rage of having to be an adult living in this world of childish things. So that was something he brought in and, of course, it’s awesome. It exactly fits the context of the scene.
What I didn’t realise about the ‘Hokey Pokey’ until afterwards, when we were in post, is that it’s not actually a public domain song. It’s actually a song that’s owned and you have to clear it and pay for it, so he got us in some knee-deep mud there. Obviously, once you see the scene, you can’t take the ‘Hokey Pokey’ out of the scene, so we had to find a way to actually obtain the song.
He brought a lot of himself to the role. He really got the satire, he got the human element, he got the humour of it and he brought a lot of himself to it, as well as a lot of his own anxieties and frustrations and insecurities. I think you can see in that pool table scene that he made it personal and that he’s telling the truth in that scene. It’s the same with Selma.
The film this reminded me of the most, in your own filmography, is Crank in that they’re both short and sharp. You said the word ‘rollercoaster’ and that’s right because they’re sub-90-minute adrenaline rush films. What is it that attracts you to that kind of story and that kind of movie?
It’s funny because, as a film watcher, I love slow movies. I have no problem sitting through three hours of something like Stalker. I love slow movies but, as a filmmaker, I find that I have the attention span of a fruit fly.
I’m incredibly ADD and I get bored constantly. I have an instinct to constantly undercut moments so, if it’s a moment of breakneck insanity, part of me wants to cut to a moment of slow conversation. If I have a moment that’s super funny, I want to cut to something horrifying and, if there’s something horrifying, I have to cut to something funny.
I think it’s nothing more than just being ADD and trying to keep myself on my toes and myself guessing all the time. So whether that works for audiences or not, I have no idea, but it leads to some very tonally bizarre movies.
Absolutely! Speaking of tonally bizarre, you obviously worked with Nicolas Cage on Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. That film did relatively well money-wise but a sequel didn’t pan out and the rights ended up back with Marvel. Is that a character you would’ve like to return to or still would like to return to?
My biggest regret of Ghost Rider was that I really think it should’ve been a rated-R movie. I think that Ghost Rider should be a rated-R, horror character. The original script that David S. Goyer wrote for that movie, which was actually written almost a decade before the first Ghost Rider film, was a hardcore, rated-R horror script and it was awesome. Then, in the time between that and the second movie, the script had been rewritten literally 14 times or 16 times or something like that to the point where it was kind of a mess. It was also just a little too clean and a little too restrained.
If we had had the opportunity to do the original, rated-R Goyer script, I think that movie would’ve been a classic. I think the cast was really good and I think we got a lot of things right. I think the design of the character was fantastic. The way we did Ghost Rider as a tar-bubbling, black, charred creature was absolutely the right take on Ghost Rider.
They’ve brought that character back on TV now and he looks like the clean, vanilla, G-rated character again. That version really has no interest for me, but I do think a scary, rated-R, horror superhero movie is an awesome thing that should be done and I wish that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance had been it.
That would have been absolutely fantastic. Thank you for your time and good luck with the film!
Thank you very much.
Mom and Dad is in UK cinemas on March 9th 2018.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.