Come to Daddy (2019)
Director: Ant Timpson
Screenwriter: Toby Harvard
Starring: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Michael Smiley, Martin Donovan, Madeleine Sami, Ona Grauer, Garfield Wilson
Come to Daddy is a difficult thing to describe. It’s either a dysfunctional family drama that stops halfway through, or it’s a grotesque horror that doesn’t kick into high gear until the last 20 minutes. Director Ant Timpson usually works in a producing capacity on such oddball projects as Turbo Kid and The Greasy Strangler, and it does share at least some DNA with both of those.
Musician Norval (Elijah Wood) comes to stay with his dad who he hasn’t seen since he was an infant after he receives a letter of invitation out of the blue, but he and Gordon (Stephen McHattie) do not hit it off, and after the latter’s increasingly threatening behaviour and a series of bizarre goings on, Norval finds himself trapped in a strange house and fighting for his life.
None of the main characters we are first introduced to are in any way sympathetic; Norval is an up-himself try-hard who name-drops Chance the Rapper and Lorde to try and impress, and Gordon is a raging alcoholic and an even more raging a-hole. You don’t find yourself hoping these guys are going to get past their differences and get on, but rather that at least one of them has something horrible happen to them as soon as possible (spoiler: it does).
Come to Daddy exists in a strange never-verse, with picturesque New Zealand standing in for somewhere that could be in either hemisphere inhabited by characters from all over in a time that’s only demonstrably modern by its cultural reference points. The pretty scenery matched with gallows humour and nasty imagery is a pleasing enough stylistic juxtapoisiton, but not to the extent that it succeeds in making a larger point about anything.
The film’s first half is a bit of a shambolic slog, too much time is spent with a pair of detestable characters being hostile to each other, but after the first big twist things become a lot more fun in a rather depraved way. We get a surreal stretch where Wood really manages to sell how easy it would be to lose your grip on reality alone in a strange house. By the time Michael Smiley appears for the final act as a hired killer with heavy metal hair, the film might well have brought you round to its unique point of view.
You can see why this went down so well at gore-hungry horror film festivals in 2019 – if there’s one thing the film isn’t lacking in, it’s splatter. Joints are dislocated, blood gushes and things that should not be punctured with BBQ forks are punctured with BBQ forks.
There are a fair few memorable exchanges peppered throughout that also work to increase the overall enjoyment of the film, like Norval’s pertinent question, “If he’s your friend then why is he stabbing you with poo pens and chaining you in your basement?” and a particularly chucklesome insult from Smiley’s character comparing someone’s mother to Michael Heseltine.
Come to Daddy is muddled and inconsistent, but it is a viewing experience unlikely to be duplicated this year. Elijah Wood continues his quest to never play anyone anything like Frodo again and lends his support to a good range of interesting indie film projects, good ideas and bad. As a director Ant Timpson may be yet to prove that he has a unique voice when behind the camera, not just rely on weird stuff just because. While many might just ask, “What the hell was that?”, this could very well be destined for cult classic status by those who really get it.