★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Come To Daddy 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 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, which just was screened at the Overlook Film Festival, where it was the much deserved 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 at 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 to visit his long estranged father, who had written for Norval to come 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 really want to see his long-lost son, despite the fact that it was his invitation. Dad is instantly dismissive. Norval tries to impress his father with made up tales of his world-wide success as a famous DJ, but 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, and his mother never talked about 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, with neither man warming up to each other. Dad gets increasingly abusive, particularly when Norval demands to know why he would have even bothered reaching out to him, because 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, and 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, part crime thriller and 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 absolutely wonderful in this role. Norval transforms from a sensitive, approval seeking emotionally damaged man, who has not achieved what he wants, and 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 was desired by director Ant Timpson to be modeled after the oddball DJ, Skrillex… and 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. Needless to say, things are not what they seem to be… and as cliche’d as that sounds, it is very important to state that for this film.
This movie has some unbelievably fun and horrifying moments, with one scene involving a meat fork providing 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, but it does actually hold together pretty well. The movie gets some minor demerits for the logic of the second half devolving somewhat, but it must be admitted that the second half is where most of the fun of the movie is. 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. No official trailer has been released yet, but there is a clip from the film that gets you a bit of the father-son relationship:
Review by Eric Li