Come To Daddy (2019) is a movie with two lives. The first half is a taught father-son dysfunctional family character piece, and the second is a hyper-violent fight for survival, featuring Elijah Wood.
Directed by Ant Timpson
Elijah Wood is a busy man at the moment. He’s got a new podcast that is being issued through SHUDDER: “Visitations” which is an interview program with some of the legends in genre films. He is also the Creative Director for the rising horror-centric film production studio SpectreVision (Mandy, Daniel isn’t Real, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). And somehow, he found the time to star in a lean and mean horror feature, Come To Daddy. The Overlook Film Festival featured this as the Centerpiece film of the festival.
Come to Daddy feels like a movie in four acts, or perhaps a pair of two-act films connected by one key moment in the middle of the film. The movie begins with Norval (Elijah Wood), hiking through the woods and across a beach to a remote and funky home on a sea cliff. He is going to visit his long-estranged father, who had written for Norval to visit him.
The reaction Norval gets from his father (Stephen McHattie) is awkward, to say the least. His dad is surprised by Norval’s arrival and doesn’t seem to want to see his long-lost son, even though it was his invitation. Dad is instantly dismissive. Norval tries to impress his father with made-up tales of his worldwide success as a famous DJ. In response, his dad cuts right through the lie and humiliates him. He likes fighters and identifies his boy as soft. Dad is a much more volatile man than Norval remembered. But, it has been some 30 years since the two of them have seen each other. His mother never talked about his dad, so Norval sets about trying to bond with him despite the difficulties.
We spend the better part of 45 minutes allowing this relationship to fester and simmer. Neither man warms up to the other. Dad gets increasingly abusive, particularly when Norval demands to know why he would have even bothered reaching out to him. Clearly, there is no love in the relationship. The whole situation is a nightmare.
And then the turn happens. As father and son come to blows and increasing violence, there is an accident. Shortly after that, there is a huge revelation that flips the whole story on its side. Up to this point, the movie has been a top-notch dysfunctional family drama, one that might have you asking, “Is this really a horror movie?”
Norval discovers a revelation that accelerates the movie into a frenzied overdrive full of bloody mayhem that is part home invasion and part crime thriller. It re-centers the whole father and son dynamic that the first half of the movie established so carefully. What you thought about the plot burns before your eyes and is reborn like a vengeful phoenix. It is difficult for me to draw too many parallels for a movie that shifts tones so dramatically and yet retains the intelligence and integrity of both halves of the film.
Wood, the ever-delicate character actor, is wonderful in this role. Norval transforms from a sensitive, approval-seeking emotionally damaged man, who has not achieved what he wants. He does not have the respect to prop him up and transforms into a hunter-killer instrument of death. When things go down, he channels some inner savagery that he didn’t know he had. Wood, in the Overlook Q&A commented that Norval’s odd haircut and odd fashion sense were desired by director Ant Timpson. He was to be modeled after the oddball DJ, Skrillex. Timpson wanted Norval to be even more awkward-looking, but Elijah prevailed in preventing the character from becoming too bizarre to be a sympathetic protagonist.
Stephen McHattie, Michael Smiley, and Martin Donovan are all excellent in their roles, with Smiley and Donovan’s characters best left un-assigned for the purpose of this review so as not to spoil the gonzo second act. Things are not what they seem to be… and as cliched as that sounds, it is very important to state that for this film.
This movie has some unbelievably fun and horrifying moments. One scene involving a meat fork provides the most gasp-inducing moment of the whole of the Overlook festival. There’s another moment where one character reveals to another that given the option of being forced to eat a used (and filled) condom or to eat his own ear, the character chose to… no… I’ll let you find that out on your own.
The audience will have to embrace the jarring change of tone and pace to the film. That said, it does hold together pretty well. The movie gets some minor demerits for the logic of the second half devolving somewhat. The good news is that the fun is in the second half. You do have to wade through a lot of awkward family dynamics in the first half, but it is all worth it for the character arc that Timpson allows for Norval.
Come to Daddy is not yet rated, but I would peg this as a Hard-R rating, for acts of savage violence, some nudity, and a good bit of profanity. This probably hits a 20 out of 25 on the Scariest Things Bridge Too Far meter.