Come to Daddy
2020, R, 93 min. Directed by Ant Timpson. Starring Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Garfield Wilson, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley, Simon Chin, Ona Grauer, Oliver Wilson.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 7, 2020
”Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” wrote Tolstoy. Longtime New Zealand-based producer and Fantastic Fest mainstay Ant Timpson’s feature debut takes Leo’s axiom as a starting point and then runs it straight into the gaping maw of a surrealist familial homecoming-cum-comic nightmare. Given the minimal – albeit excellent – cast and the film’s maximal rollercoaster of shifty mood swings and its increasingly paranoiac atmosphere of disorienting dread, it’s no wonder Come to Daddy lingers in the mind long after the final, emotionally revelatory denouement.
Wood plays Norval, a wannabe hipster-mustachioed man-child who arrives at the looming Pacific Ocean beach home of the father who abandoned his family decades before and has not been seen or heard from since. That is, until Norval was summoned to this remote outpost by a letter from dear old Dad. Old, yes, but dear? Oh, no. As played by Canadian national treasure McHattie (Pontypool, the Soska Sisters remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid), Norval’s father is a hideous scum demon, prone to guzzling outrageous amounts of booze – early on, Norval admits to his own prior issues with alcohol dependency – and verbally, mentally, and ultimately physically showering his milquetoast offspring with unremitting abuse. Who is this crazed Daddy Dearest, and why did he call for Norval to visit after a veritable lifetime of self-imposed absence? To answer those questions fully would enter into the territory of major spoilers; suffice to say there’s oh so much more going on here than meets Norval’s eyes and ears. (Not least of which are an ongoing series of eerie midnight cacophonies and after-nightfall clambers begging the question is Norval normal? Or is he slowly slipping into midnight madness? Wake in fright indeed.)
Writer and frequent Timpson collaborator Toby Harvard (The Greasy Strangler, The ABCs of Death 2) has penned an increasingly unhinged narrative that runs the tonal gamut from The Tenant-era Polanski to hallucinatory pandemonium worthy of early Nicolas Roeg, all the while steadfastly refusing to kowtow to audience expectations. Some viewers may be put off by the whiplash 180-degree mindfuck that arrives like a flaming crossbow bolt to the amygdala midway through, but genre fans familiar with the work of actor and Ben Wheatley regular Michael Smiley probably wouldn’t settle for anything less. Come to Daddy is a stylistically impressive and disconcertingly lovely shot across the absurdist bow that plays havoc with genre conventions and as such impresses with its utterly unique take on father/son reunification and the perils thereof.
Head to austinchronicle.com/screens to read our interview with director Ant Timpson.