22nd Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Come To Daddy’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley | Written by Toby Harvard | Directed by Ant Timpson

come-daddy-poster

Directed by Ant Timpson in his feature directorial debut, based on his idea and written by Toby Harvard (The Greasy Strangler), Come to Daddy is a New Zealand film project. It stars Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings), someone not unfamiliar with New Zealand film work, as Norval Greenwood, a thirty-something musical artist who travels to a cabin in the middle-of-nowhere and attempts to reconnect with his father.

Stephen McHattie plays Gordon, a wonderfully manic and unpredictable man, played with a real tension that creates discomfort and awkwardness in the scenes between himself and Norval in the early stages of the movie. Norval begins as a cocksure and almost arrogant character with a past shadowed with demons of alcoholism and self-harm, but as the film progresses and the relationship between father and son grows and adapts, Norval’s facade begins to break down as Norval begins to question everything about his life and his personality. The relationships alter and the tale weaves in unusual ways to create something unlike anything I’ve seen before.

At times hilarious and absurd, and at other times dark and depressive, it’s a tense story of family resentment told in a way that just keeps upping the craziness as we go along. The performances are excellent, especially from Wood and McHattie, the latter of whom dials up the weird to eleven. The film begins innocently enough, a family reconnection, but man does that change. The twists and turns come thick and steady, taking the story you think is being told and twisting it into something else completely, making Come to Daddy all the more riveting and entertaining. There’s a specific fight scene involving toilet paper, cling-film and a BBQ skewer that stands out as a good representation of what Come to Daddy is all about. Peculiar, harsh and very, very funny.

The cast are all pretty great. Wood and McHattie aside, Madeleine Sami (What We Do in the Shadows) as Gladys the Coroner, Martin Donovan (Inherent Vice) as Brian (whose dialogue, for me, was the funniest of the films 95 minutes), and Michael Smiley (Kill List) as Jethro, all stand out. It’s a great assembly of actors and they all deliver. Even the smaller side-characters are memorable. Something else that is notable quite quickly about the film is the sheer beauty of the locations and the slick cinematography from Daniel Katz (High Resolution). It just looks bloody good. Not to mention Karl Steven’s musical work, which fits like a glove with every other element here.

Seeing Wood, who still, to me, resembles the fresh-faced kid who hit our screens in the 90s in films like Flipper, with a moustache adorning his top lip, is odd. Facial hair aside, Wood does a magnificent job in his role, and delivers an excellent and pretty complex performance brimming with regret, bewilderment and sadness. He’s funny at times, but equally he’s serious and nails the role of Norval. I haven’t seen Wood as good as this in a while, and that’s not to say he hasn’t done some good stuff in recent years (I Don’t Feet at Home in This World Anymore comes to mind as a top notch film form him), but this is really something, and I had a great time with it. Timpson has nailed it with a confident, bizarre, funny and dark film that goes places you never really expect. I, for one, look forward to his second film.

Superbly written, Come to Daddy looks like gold and is full of laugh-out-loud moments and shocking ones. Top notch performances across the board, and a story that keeps you on your toes, this is something really damn special. Just when you think it’s about to turn right, it goes left and puts its foot on the gas pedal. What a weird, wacky ride.

****½  4.5/5

Come To Daddy screened on Thursday August 22nd as part of Arrow Video Frightfest 2019.

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