Fantastic Fest Interview: Ant Timpson Says Come to Daddy
How an old grieving tradition gave the filmmaker a new energy
By Richard Whittaker,
1:30PM, Thu. Sep. 19, 2019
Ant Timpson is (in)famous in genre circles as the producer of such gory gems as Deathgasm and The ABCs of Death. So when he announced that his feature directorial debut would be a family drama, that threw a few people. But should it be so shocking? Not really, said Timpson. "We've all got daddy issues."
That may seem a little blithe about the film, which receives its Texas premiere at Fantastic Fest this weekend, but there's more than a morsel of truth about the roots of the project. In it, loser hipster trust fund baby Norval (Elijah Wood) heads to remote Oregon for a long-delayed reunion with the father he never really knew, Brian (Stephen McHattie). Of course, this being Timpson, the reunion takes a strange and dark turn, but its roots lie in something very personal: the actual death of his own father. Or, as the blunt-speaking Timpson put it, "It all stemmed from watching my old man cark it in front of me, which was very traumatic."
This was when an old tradition entered his life: the habit of laying out the dead in the house, and sitting up with them. The idea came from his father's partner: "[She] thought it was a good idea to have the embalmed corpse come back to his house for five days, so we could go through a grieving process – which we though was rather Addams Family style, but in hindsight was actually a really incredible thing to do."
And then his father's partner, "she skedaddled. She was like, I'm going to leave ''you kids' to spend time with your dad to do your own grieving." During the day, there would be many visitors ("he was quite a well known business guy and sports guy," said Timpson) but at night, and during the long stretches of the week when the rest of the family were busy, it was just him and his father's corpse. "And because I've watched a lot of horror movies – and a lot of movies in general – I based my actions around what I thought was the right thing to do, which was go downstairs in the middle of the night and have these heart-to-heart conversations with a corpse. All I did was stare at the body and expect it to pop up like Christopher Lee from a Hammer Horror movie."
Those elements – the homecoming, the unspoken conversations, the strange revelations about someone you thought you knew, all fed into Come to Daddy. Yet there was also the grieving process itself, and the benefits of the laying out. "I really felt reinvigorated," said Timpson. "I suddenly felt life is very short – literally watching you dad dying in front of you does that, strangely enough – and I wanted to make something. Not necessarily as a tribute to him, but I feel it would make him proud, because he was always supportive of my film interests. I started off as that crazy kid making home movies, and then I just moved away to help everyone else just realize their dream. So I though, I'm just gonna do it for me, do it for dad, and just -do- something."
That's when he brought on The Greasy Strangler cowriter Toby Harvard to help him with the script. "I pitched this idea of this gritty, low budget film, shot in the actual house where dad died. Let's do this thing that's spooky and creepy, but very heartfelt, so let's call in some favors and make it."
Of course, Timpson has a lot of favors to call in, which is why his small movie features McHattie, Michael Smiley, and, of course, Wood. Still, Timpson was careful about being, well, that guy. "I don't ever want to ask someone, to put them in that position where they're obligated to give you an answer. But a lot of people had done it to [Wood] over the years, and he's a pro, so I felt comfortable sending it to him to look. ... He just loved the whole script and the character, and from there it really took off."
Of course, this being Timpson and Harvard, there's a certain twist, an over-the-top visual element that expresses itself through the sleazy, skeezy characters. Take Smiley's gangster Jethro, who looks like the bastard child of a Doobie Brothers roadie and the Child Catcher from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. The character was designed to be someone who felt like they should be living a movie, "with this theatrical component," Timpson said. "I did a mock-up, using my brilliant PhotoShop skills, of what they could look like, and he came out really close to that."
And then there's Norvil's hair, potentially the worst 'do Wood has had to sport since Frodo's shaggy bowl cut. That was one place where Timpson was worried his humor and sense of the grotesque was going too far. He worried that "[Wood's] going to push back, he's not going to let me go gonzo and make him look really extreme and silly. His big thing was that he just didn't want the character to be a cartoon, and I was like, 'It's just a hair cut. It lays the framework.' So we had some robust conversations and I realized, 'Oh, man, he doesn't care about that, he's just more concerned overall, that there has to be some human connection to the audience, and he's not just some annoying caricature."
Fortunately, while Smiley's look was far more extreme and absurd, his haircut was less hassle. "He had a wonderful wig," said Timpson.
Come to Daddy
Sun., Sept. 22, 11:30pm with director Ant Timpson in attendance
Thu., Sept. 26, 8pm