If you were in the Toronto area last night, and you were awoken in the middle of the night by a strange high-pitched noise, I have to apologize. That was me, cackling like a lunatic at Nicolas Cage’s performance in Mom and Dad. It’s been a while since Nicolas Cage went full Cage onscreen. He’s spent most of this decade in middling direct-to-video thrillers. The last really Cage-y Nic Cage performance was 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s probably no coincidence that both these movies were directed by (or, in the case of Ghost Rider, co-directed by) the same guy: Brian Taylor. That is why today I am calling on Congress to pass legislation that will force these two to make a new movie together every two years. We must make America Cage again.

Mom and Dad is a good start in that effort. The premise, written by Taylor, is the first truly clever riff on the zombie genre in a long time. One ordinary morning, without warning or explanation, parents everywhere start trying to murder their children. This inexplicable sickness spreads like a virus, until kids everywhere are under attack. At the center of it all are the Ryans: dad Brent (Cage), mom Kendall (Selma Blair), high school sophomore Carly (Anne Winters) and little Josh (Zachary Arthur). As the film begins, Brent and Kendall bicker, and Carly is having trouble communicating with her mom. But it’s typical family issues. Not the sort of thing that traditionally leads to a man to try to poison his kids by with carbon monoxide.

That all changes when this strange filicide virus takes hold. Things escalate from random acts of violence to full-on outbreak while Carly is at school, but about halfway through the film, all the main characters return home. This is Mom and Dad’s most magnificent (and most Cagenificent) stretch, after the parents and the kids reach a stalemate and begin scheming ways to end the conflict. It’s like a twisted remake of Home Alone on bath salts. And in this version, the Wet Bandits might actually kill Macaulay Culkin — and the director might actually make us watch.

That’s because that director, previously one half of the Neveldine/Taylor team that gave us Gamer and the gloriously demented Crank films, has a unique flair for transgressive images and ideas. He takes (and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible) sick delight in coming up with inventive ways to exploit his twisted premise. Mom and Dad isn’t particularly graphic in terms of violence (frankly, it probably should be more graphic, save for the fact that it probably would have given every member of the MPAA’s ratings board a stroke). But it’s full of truly horrifying scenes and visuals.

Thanks to Cage, it’s also impossibly funny. Mom and Dad gives Cage his most plausible in-story excuse to unleash his total Cageosity since Face/Off. Given a juicy part and the freedom to do whatever he wants, he embraces Brent’s madness with obvious glee. He screams. He howls. He glares. He cackles. He curses. And without ever trying to match his Cagenicity, Selma Blair does a heroic job sharing the screen with him while he does it. Before the real insanity starts, she also has several lovely scenes wrestling with how our society treats homemakers. I would gladly watch a whole series of movies where these two actors delight in trying to murder children. (Please don’t show my daughter this review, thanks.)

This sudden societal desire to wipe out children has all kinds of allegorical overtones; a lot of parents envy their children’s youth and potential, and if old people continue treating our environment like garbage for a few more decades we won’t need a mysterious virus to wipe out future generations. On an even more fundamental level, though, it’s just incredibly fun to watch Nicolas Cage destroy a pool table with a sledgehammer while he sings the Hokey Pokey. It’s the kind of scene only Nicolas Cage could pull off, and the kind his fans would kill for.


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