Things have gotten a little twisted for writer/director Brian Taylor these days — and that's just the way he likes it. His bizarro series Happy! is finishing up its first season on SYFY in a couple weeks, and his new Nicolas Cage film, Mom and Dad, a pitch-black horror-comedy about parents who suddenly want to murder their children, is hitting theaters today, Jan. 19.
Let's face it. You've got to love any movie that plugs Nicolas Cage into crazy mode. And he goes very crazy in Mom and Dad. Cage stars as Dad and Selma Blair as Mom, both loving, stressed-out normal parents who find themselves trapped in boring lives they never imagined. And then one day the parents go nuts during a worldwide mass hysteria, and want to murder their own children. The film also stars Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, and Lance Henriksen.
Taylor (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) talked with SYFY WIRE about Happy!, why he went to the comic dark side on Mom and Dad, and about why he never wants to play it safe.
Mom and Dad explores what happens when the world goes crazy and parents want to kill their kids. Why did you want to go there?
Brian Taylor: Well, I am a parent.
[Laughs] So occasionally you do want to kill your kids?
They can be a little annoying [laughs] ... That's the cute answer. But the real answer is that as a creative person you're always looking for something that hasn't been done before. You want to do something original; at least if you're me you do. The risk that you run is that sometimes when you do something that hasn't been done before you quickly find out why it hasn't been done before. Hopefully, this isn't one of those cases.
It's definitely a movie where on the industry-side people were really afraid of it. “It's such a dark subject.” “Impossible to promote.” But then when you talk to normal people, the reaction has universally been they get a chuckle out of it. They understand the humor and satire.
Yeah, any parent, you go through 10 times a day where you want to kill your kid. Of course, you love your kids. The humor of it we feel is pretty obvious to normal people.
While you were writing it, what inspired the directions you ended up going in? You do take some wild turns here.
It sort of turns into a French farce and a Scooby-Doo episode ...
With lots of blood and violence.
With lots of blood, yeah.
You took a lot of dark turns someone doing a commercial film might not have taken. It seems risky.
I don't really feel that way. Look, there's a lot of movies out there these days. There are so many pieces of entertainment competing for people's attention. Audiences have infinite choices, and they're very savvy. Audiences have seen it all. So to me the risky thing is to play it safe. The risky thing is to do something that feels safe, that feels like they've seen it a million times before. Or it feels like a variation on something that we already know. That to me feels safe. I don't think it's ever risky to do something original. Some people will like it. Some people won't. But at the end of the day, you broke some new territory.
For a creative person, that's the most fun. And I've been really happy to see the reception the movie's gotten so far. It's probably been the best-reviewed movie of my career, and audiences have loved it. The screenings that we've had at TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival], and at Fantastic Fest, and just at Screamfest a few nights ago, have been a total blast.
Any creative endeavor is a risk. Every creative endeavor makes you vulnerable. It's not an easy thing to do for a living: to put yourself out there with every new project. But we live and die by it. It's something where you just have to believe in what you do, and you have to make movies for yourself. You have to love it first, and then you hope that other people love it too. And on those fortunate occasions when everything falls into place and other people love it too, it's a really good feeling.
You worked with Nicolas Cage on Ghost Rider. Did you write the dad with him in mind? He gets to go crazy, and it's always fun to see him do that in a movie.
He's definitely the first guy I went to. I just knew he would understand all the levels of it. He would get the humor. He would get that it's occasionally terrifying. Of course, he loves that. He also gets the humor and he gets the satire. And he's a father too. And he's a guy who deals with the same sort of issues that the characters in the movie do. And I would say the same for Selma Blair.
They're both people who you can sort of dress them up in the parts of traditional American parents, but for both of them, you can see there's a punk-rock core that will never go away. They'll always feel miscast in that role of a traditional parent, and that's exactly what we needed these parents to be. We needed these characters to be like, “How did I find myself here? Who have I become? I thought I was cooler.” [Laughs]
The kids were terrific too.
The kids were fantastic. I thought Anne and Zack both had thankless performances, because they don't get to do any of the crazy stuff. They have to be the ones that play straight man to these lunatics. And I thought they both did it really, really well.
These are not bad kids. That's one thing that was really important to me to do in the movie. Yeah, they mess up sometimes. They're not perfect. But they're not bad kids. This is not their fault. All of us are programmed to play these roles. The reason the kids are wrapped up in their own world and they don't think about anybody else is because they're kids. They're designed that way. That's what kids do.
And the reason the parents go crazy ... they're sort of programmed that way too. So all of us are victims of the role that we're cast in.
I thought they both did a great job. And little Zack, both of those two kids are going to be movie stars.
What were your biggest challenges in getting this to the screen?
The premise was the biggest obstacle. Because like I said, it's easy to hear it and not understand the humor and just think it's going to be this devastating movie that's going to destroy your soul, and it's so not that. So that was probably the biggest challenge.
And with all these things, you need to find the right partners. You need to find the people who get it and the people who understand the movie the way that you understand it. And so in this case, I was able to find that in the guys in Armory Films, the initial guys who put up the money for the movie. I was able to find it with XYZ Films, who handled the foreign sales. And ultimately, I was able to find it with Nicolas and Selma. And so once you've got partners like that, you're good to go.
What's the thing you weren't expecting that happened with this film?
I think the biggest surprise for me so far has been the reviews. You never really know if people are going to get it. We can be as confident as we want, but at the end of the day, audiences are audiences, and we'd all be lying if we said we knew exactly how people are going to feel about it. So that's been really gratifying. Like I said, I've got the best reviews for this movie that I've gotten in my career. And I've been doing this awhile. So that was really nice to see. It just kind of feels good.
Are we going to see a Mom And Dad 2?
The way this business works is, if people want more of this story then we are very happy to give it to them.
I know you don't have much time. What do you want to tell us about Happy!
For anybody who hasn't seen it, this show is really bananas. I mean, it's pretty much pure bananas. I guarantee you've never seen Chris Meloni like this. He's spectacular. The chemistry between him and Patton Oswalt is really something else.
What do we have to look forward to with the last few episodes?
Episode 6 [just aired], and then we've got two more. It's eight in total. And for the people who've been following the series so far, pretty much every episode has been different. It's not that kind of show where it's like Gilligan's Island or something [laughs], where every week we tune in and it's the same thing, and we see if we're going to get off the island this week. This is just one of those shows where it just makes quantum leaps of strangeness every episode. There's really no way to predict what's going to happen next. But I will say that Episode 7 is going to be legendary.
Happy! Airs on Wednesdays on SYFY at 10 p.m. ET.
Mom and Dad premieres in theaters, on VOD, and Digital HD today.