Come to Daddy is that most difficult of beasts to review: a film that has so much to recommend, including many secrets, successful twists, and brilliant performances, but giving away too much would spoil the movie. Loaded with uncomfortable family drama, gruesome set pieces, black humor, and some touching poignancy, suffice it to say that it's a genre-bender that is one of the finest cinematic efforts on this year's festival circuit.
Elijah Wood portrays Norval, who is traveling to a remote beach house to meet his father, who abandoned him 30 years earlier. Obviously nervous about the reunion, Norval finds that he indeed has plenty to worry once he meets his verbally abusive, highly aggressive, judgmental father (Stephen McHattie). The elder man enjoys taunting his recovering substance abuser son with his own predilection for alcohol, and in an excitingly tense scene, plays a game of mental chess regarding how well Norval actually knows a certain music celebrity he claims to be like a father to him.
Wood and McHattie are amazing in their portrayals, putting on a veritable acting clinic. Wood plays Norval with a deer-in-the-headlights gaze and a touching fragility, nailing his character's neuroses and insecurity. McHattie's character senses vulnerability and fear in Norval, and the seasoned actor gives a bravado performance as a screen villain who viewers will not easily forget. Their time on screen together delivers some of the most uneasy confrontations viewers are likely to see on big screens this year.
And that is merely the first part of Come to Daddy. After that, the film takes some jaw-dropping, mind-blowing paths that cement its spot as one of the most engaging, unique, and tense motion pictures of the year. It doesn't fit neatly into any genre, playing freely with horror, dark comedy, thriller, and other elements.
It is during the second and third acts that Norval must challenge himself to do things he never thought he could be capable of, if he wants to survive what he originally thought might be a pleasant reunion in a lovely seaside area. Blood spills in wince-inducing ways, and the film isn't afraid of portraying graphic brutality.
Ant Timpson helms the project masterfully, never missing a step or a beat as he brings Toby Harvard's (cowriter of The Greasy Strangler with Jim Hosking) clever screenplay to sadistic cinematic life. The visuals are gorgeous, with Daniel Katz's cinematography vividly capturing the film's extremes of lush landscapes and unsettling gore, and everything in between.
Michael Smiley, Martin Donovan, Ona Grauer, and Madeleine Sami all have crucial, memorable roles as well, but readers should experience why, and what they are, for themselves. I will say that Smiley has played some unsavory characters in the past, but this may be his finest hour so far. Genre-movie lovers clamoring for new approaches and unpredictable storylines should seek out Come to Daddy. Go in as fresh as possible, and prepare for an uncomfortably fun time.
Ant Timpson's "Come to Daddy" is technically a debut but Timpson has been on the horror scene for years, producing films like "The ABCs of Death" and "Turbo Kid." This entry isn't as "out there" as you might expect, grounding itself more in a story of estrangement and regret (at least for the first half) and carried by another memorable performance from Elijah Wood, who can always find a way to tether even the most ridiculous stories to something that feels relatable.
Wood plays the meek Norval, whose thin mustache and hipster aesthetic practically shout his insecurities. He's the opposite of his estranged father, whom he goes to visit after receiving a letter to reunite. They haven't seen each other in years, but the alpha male monster who answers the door, played with fire and brimstone by Stephen McHattie, does not seem interested in a reunion. He doesn't even remember sending a letter. Was he drunk? (He clearly is now.) It's depressingly obvious that things are not going to go well, although exactly where Norval's story is headed is not something viewers will be able to predict.
Without spoilers, let's just say that "Come to Daddy" is not the heartwarming father-and-son reunion that its protagonist hopes for in the opening scenes. Norval is forced to violently reckon with who he is and where he comes from in a way that pushes believability a few degrees past what I was hoping, but always works because of how in the moment Wood remains throughout. He can sell the most ridiculous, twisty narrative. He has to do a lot of selling here, but I bought most of it.
COME TO DADDY is the feature film directorial debut from acclaimed producer Ant Timpson (The Greasy Strangler, Housebound), with a script penned by Toby Harvard (The Greasy Strangler), about a man who goes and visits his estranged father. The film stars Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie (300), Martin Donovan (Big Little Lies), Michael Smiley (The Lobster), Madeleine Sami (Breaker Uppers), and Simon Chin (Killing Eve).
Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood), a privileged man-child arrives at the beautiful and remote coastal cabin of his estranged father, who he hasn't seen in 30 years. He quickly discovers that not only is his dad a disapproving jerk, he also has a shady past that is rushing to catch up with him. Now, hundreds of miles from his cushy comfort zone, Norval must battle with demons both real and perceived in order to reconnect with a father he barely knows.
I've watched a lot of horror/thrillers in my 35 years on this planet and though I'm no expert by any stretch of the imagination, I can usually tell where a movie is headed rather early on. In the case of COME TO DADDY, not only could I have been further from the truth in where I thought this movie was headed, but it's easily one of the fucking wildest movies I've seen in 2019. Because I believe in the sanctity of not spoiling anything, this review will be light in terms of the overall premise of what unfolds during the film. What I can say is that if you ever thought you had daddy issues, they are nothing compared to Norval's.
I immediately resonated with this film after reading Timpson's statement on how the idea came to be. After losing his father, he went through an exploration of what could potentially be the darker side of his father's life. Having lost my own dad 18 years ago, I felt a kinship to what Timpson was conveying, especially when it came to light that my father had been hiding some unsavory aspects of himself from me and the rest of my family. Had he been alive today, I can almost guarantee we would be estranged which is why I figured this movie would tug on my heartstrings. However, I was not prepared for the onslaught of twists and turns that unfolded, resulting in a film that was more about Norval’s growth (in a bizarre series of events) than that of his father.
Taking on the brunt of the film's performances is that of Elijah Wood. Dressed in hammer pants outfitted by a flowing tunic while carrying a rose-gold limited edition cellphone created by Lorde, Norval is the epitome of white male entitlement. We later come to find that he's still living at home with his mom while attempting to make his career in the "music business" sound much more glamorous than it really is. Wood does a tremendous job of not only carrying this movie but making it feel so believable and genuine. Even when he learns just how much of an asshole his father is, you can still see him struggling with wanting to be accepted and loved by him.
As for Timpson's first feature film, he knocks it out of the park, especially if you like films that are weird and twisty turvy. I can only imagine how cathartic this must have been for him, to be able to make a film both in remembrance of his father and as a way to work through any unfinished grief/guilt/whatever you want to call it. The whole film plays out seamlessly and I think a lot of that has to do with the players involved, especially Timpson, Wood, and writer Toby Harvard, all of whom worked on The Greasy Strangler together. That's not to say that the film doesn't have a few bumps in the road, it most certainly does, but it is easier to disregard them when viewing the overall picture.
Honestly, COME TO DADDY is one of the best debut films I've seen in 2019. It's incredibly surprising, shockingly funny, and ruthlessly violent (listen, someone gets stabbed in the penis and it's worthy of praise). It's a movie that may make some audience goers uncomfortable due to the weird mixture of humor and violence and, to be quite honest, I think that's great. For me, this is a film that will definitely hold a special place in my heart as it is a reminder that our parents, those who we hold in such high esteem, have the ability to make awful mistakes with dire consequences because after all, they are only human.
This is a movie that you should go into as blind as possible, and then do your movie friends a solid and don't ruin the surprises in COME TO DADDY.