by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Writer/director Brian Taylor is known for his totally unique, irreverent voice as a filmmaker. It’s the first thing you notice about his past films Crank and Gamer, his new television show Happy!, and that voice is certainly crystal clear in his latest film, Mom and Dad, which hits theaters today. Mom and Dad stars Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as a married couple who are starting to feel their own obsolescence when, due to some unexplained terrorist attack, parents start attacking their own children.
It’s a crazy idea, and one that only Brian Taylor could pull off. Variety has called the film “One of the great jet-black comedies about suburbia, destined for the same cult-classic status accorded ‘The Stepford Wives,’ ‘Parents’ and ‘Heathers’.” I have to agree with their assessment. A new parent myself, almost every moment of horror in this film was accompanied by a laugh and an audible, “What the f*ck!?” Mom and Dad is a crazy ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat, reveling in the joys and pains of suspense.
I recently spoke with Brian Taylor about approaching “the line” in horror movies, what makes a great genre movie, and whether or not Nicolas Cage is a genius.
Angela Bourassa: Tell me about your kids.
Brian Taylor: [Laughs] I have a son and he’s fantastic. He’s in college now. When I told him about the idea for this movie, he said, and I quote, “Dad, are you fucking crazy?” He did love the movie, though.
Angela Bourassa: Have you noticed a divide in audience reactions between people who have children and people who don’t?
Brian Taylor: The non-parents want the movie to kill more kids, and the parents say, “No, I think that was about right.”
Angela Bourassa: [Laughs] That’s great. I actually thought you showed a lot of restraint with what could have been some very graphic scenes, and I really appreciated that.
Brian Taylor: Yeah, there’s definitely a line with movies like this. You don’t want to cross it because then people will just hate you. I think we did a good job, but we’re always playing with that line. Watching the movie now, there are scenes where I think, “I wish we’d pushed that a bit further.” But it’s really hard to know where exactly the line is while you’re making the film.
Angela Bourassa: I really enjoyed the movie, but then I felt very awkward around my son for the rest of the day. I’m curious, were you trying to make a serious point about what it means to be a parent, or were you simply taking the idea of “Sometimes I could just kill my kids” to an extreme?
Brian Taylor: With genre movies in general, at least the good ones — and I hope this is a good one — I think they have to operate on two levels. The first level is the thrilling or terrifying story, hopefully a story that’s original and has some surprises that we haven’t seen before. But then there’s also the level of subtext. And the subtext doesn’t have to be that “sub.” Werewolf movies from the 80s, for example, are basically all about puberty. Genre movies have to have an element of truth to them. The metaphor has to become real.
We love our kids and we want to kill them about ten times a day, but we obviously would never do it. How the parents in this movie feel — there’s a truth to it. But the way they react in the movie isn’t advisable.
Angela Bourassa: [Laughs]
Brian Taylor: But all parents have this feeling of, “I’ve fulfilled my purpose on this planet, and now I’m old news.” That system works well in nature to perpetuate species, but as people, we have these ideas of our own importance that make becoming obsolete really tough to grapple with.
Angela Bourassa: Selma Blair’s performance really stands out in this movie — she’s amazing — but I have to ask about Nicolas Cage. The eternal unanswerable question is, of course, is Nicolas Cage a brilliant actor or a terrible actor. What’s your take?
Brian Taylor: Oh, he’s brilliant. He’s great. If you value originality, how could you not value what he does? Not only is he completely unique, but he’s probably one of the most professional actors you’ll ever encounter. Even when he seems completely unhinged on film, those moments are meticulously thought out. There’s nothing random or flippant about his performances. He takes movies and art very seriously. He’s passionate about them.
I think the material needs to come up to the level of what he can do, and a lot of times it doesn’t. In some cases he can seem outsized in a film, but that’s just the material not meeting his level.
Angela Bourassa: Any worries that you’ve emotionally scarred the kids who acted in this film?
Brian Taylor: [Laughs] These kids were awesome. Little Zack (Zackary Arthur) is a brilliant actor — he’s very method. Sometimes he would work himself up to tears in a scene and it would take him a long time to come back down. So as the director I was kind of the temporary dad, I took a protective role. Sometimes Nicolas Cage would be in a scene with Zack and get into this full manic state, and Zack would look over at me with these big eyes asking, “Am I going to be ok?” And my response was to shrug and say, “I hope so.”
Angela Bourassa: [Laughs] Ok, there are two questions that I like to end interviews with. First up, what do you wish you had known when you started your writing and directing career?
Brian Taylor: Oh man… Take opportunities seriously. Take every opportunity seriously and treat it as if it’s your make-or-break opportunity. Because you never know when an opportunity is going to come around again. I know people who get one offer and feel like they’re on the train, but you can fall off the train very easily if you don’t take this work seriously.
Angela Bourassa: Final question: if you were trying to break into the industry today, how would you go about it?
Brian Taylor: The bad thing about the industry today is that it’s really hard to stand out because there’s so much material out there. But the good thing is that it’s never been easier to make good material. You can shoot a whole movie on an iPhone.
So have a vision, be different, be original, and don’t limit yourself by feeling like you need other people to validate what you do in order for it to be worthy of eyes. Don’t take the attitude of, “Big studios will never take a chance on me.” Think about what you want to put across and how you can do it. If you’re original, you will find an audience. Make your own movies — that’s what I would do.
Mom and Dad is in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD today.
Angela Bourassa is the founder and Editor in Chief of LA Screenwriter.