Studio: Saban Films
Director: Ant Timpson
Writer: Toby Harvard
Producer: Mette-Marie Kongsved, Laura Tunstall, Toby Harvard, Daniel Bekerman, Emma Slade, Katie Holly
Stars: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Michael Smiley, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan
An average man triggers a chain of increasingly disturbing situations when he tries to reunite with his estranged father.
¡°Come to Daddy¡± slyly introduces nebbish Norval Greenwood through cleverly revealing details. As a matter of fact, it¡¯s up to grooming, wardrobe, and props to tell us the truth about this 35-year-old odd duck. Norval¡¯s less certain words initially just wobble between mourning the death of his limited edition iPhone (¡°it was designed by Lorde¡±) or fabulizing a friendship with Elton John (¡°his real name is Reginald¡±).
A Moe Howard moptop and child molester mustache suggest a cutely creepy misunderstanding of styling trends. At the same time, the forever-young face of Elijah Wood tempers Norval¡¯s awkward appearance with a guard-lowering aura of friendly familiarity. You can guess he still lives with his mother well before Norval verbally confirms it. Thumbnails painted black, a copy of The Celestine Prophecy, and two tattoos of Asian lettering behind his ear complete the image of a harmlessly hopeless hipster. Norval hasn¡¯t been corrupted by a life of privilege, but he has certainly been sheltered by it.
The last time Norval saw his father Brian, Norval was only five years old. Brian walked out on Norval¡¯s mother and never looked back. For reasons unknown, an unexpected letter suddenly summons Norval to a remote Oregon home for an unlikely reunion.
¡°Come to Daddy¡¯s¡± first half hour moves minimalist pieces according to chamber drama rules. One location, two men, and three decades of emotional baggage to unpack, sort, and refold. Adding to the stageplay feel, Wood weirdly plays Norval like he¡¯s coming to life in an off-Broadway theater. His measured line readings make dialogue sound written as opposed to organically conversational. I¡¯m 50/50 on whether coming across as rehearsed is Wood¡¯s conscious choice to illustrate Norval¡¯s superficial layer of phoniness or just acting reading as acting.
Stephen McHattie meanwhile, gives a fuller-bodied performance as Norval¡¯s father. The venerable Canadian character actor effuses anger through carefully positioned posture, sows suspicion in every crinkle of a cocked eyebrow, and doles out duplicitous uncertainty during every contentious encounter with Norval. It¡¯s a deliciously meaty role for a man largely limited to cameos and smaller supporting parts in post-2010 genre fare. If I were given to hyperbole, I might say this is McHattie¡¯s most eye-catching performance in recent memory. Watching Brian play passive-aggressive poker by literally calling Norval¡¯s bluffs and fearlessly going all-in on gambits of his own design becomes a big highlight of the film¡¯s early expository stage.
At its first turn, ¡°Come to Daddy¡± brightens the dark comedy quietly percolating beneath un-extraordinary proceedings to alter the atmosphere. A certain circumstance interrupts the two-person t¨ºte-¨¤-t¨ºte by inviting a quirky deputy to step onto the scene. Following in his footsteps comes an even quirkier coroner. There¡¯s a vague ¡°Northern Exposure¡± element at work here as ¡°Come to Daddy¡± adds the eccentricity of a nighttime ¡®90s dramatic sitcom to its tug-o-war of eclectic tones.
These side sequences don¡¯t do much more than beef up Norval¡¯s already ample anxiety. Still, the detour serves up Wood¡¯s funniest pre-hysteria moment in a drunken exchange where his pickup moves gradually degrade from coolly confident to desperately pathetic. When you look back later, you may add such scenes to an itemized inventory of unnecessary inclusions that puff up the film¡¯s first hour without propelling the plot. In the moment though, the entertainment value means you¡¯re less likely to notice that certain sections seem trivialized.
Once you make it to the other side of the interplays, assuming your attention span isn¡¯t compromised by irregular pacing, ¡°Come to Daddy¡± careens through another swerve that blows the story¡¯s door off its hinges. Casual conversations and humorous exchanges slightly recede as increasingly insane shocks start piling up. ¡°Come to Daddy¡± dares to get far darker than its opening hour conditions an underprepared viewer to anticipate. Specifics would spoil surprises, so let¡¯s simply say the final half hour features excrement-laden torture tools, flaming crossbows, genital stabbings, saran wrap suffocations, hooker headlocks, and a motel full of geologist swingers. That¡¯s only half of it.
Not what you saw coming, huh? That¡¯s what keeps ¡°Come to Daddy¡¯s¡± frights and funniness fascinating. Its weirdness grows like a subtly spreading moss instead of bulldozing bizarreness with the blunt force of campy exaggeration. The film is only oddly uneven in small spurts, not across the entire board. Unpredictability ultimately make for a movie that¡¯s an alluring directorial debut for indie producer Ant Timpson as well as an unusually enjoyable experience for appreciators of midnight movies built on caustic comedy, repulsive shocks, and an unexpected amount of emotional substance to boot.
Review Score: 75