Canada/New Zealand/Ireland/US | 2019 | Directed by Ant Timpson
Logline: A man visits his long-estranged father for a reunion only to discover dark truths and stranger revelations.
“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” Words penned by William Shakespeare. “There is no one else like my daddy.” Lyrics sung by Beyoncé Knowles. Both are quotes on the screen at the beginning of Ant Timpson’s debut feature as director, having produced a number of movies that ooze similar cult appeal; Deathgasm, Housebound, The ABCs of Death, Turbo Kid, and The Greasy Strangler.
Timpson knows a thing or two about genre cinema aesthetics, and screen charisma. He’s been the director and programmer of The Incredibly Strange Film Festival in New Zealand for twenty-five years (fifteen of them as a sidebar within the NZ International Film Festival), so it’s not surprising his first foray in the director’s chair is one that is nestled moist and snug in a cradle of uncompromising ickiness.
But Come To Daddy is more than just a strange tale of a boy and his dad; it’s an emotionally resonant portrait of loneliness and the anxiety of confrontation. It’s the age-old dilemma of trying to reconnect with the past, picking the scabs off old wounds. It’s also about the fear of the unknown. Come To Daddy delicately balances a sense of mystery and menace with the shackles of crime and punishment. It’s a gloriously unctuous stew, as compelling in its poignancy as it is fetid in its detail.
Norval (Elijah Wood, perfectly cast) is a 35-year-old wannabe Ric Owens’ hipster lost in his own delusions and sporting a ridiculous haircut. He’s responded to a letter from his elusive father, and he arrives at the doorstep, intrigued, but wary. The house is a “UFO from the 60s” perched high on the rocks on the west coast of Canada. Gordon (Stephen McHattie) is an intimidating, booze-addled space cadet, but still quick-witted enough to catch out Norval’s attempt at celebrity name-dropping, and sly enough to prevent Norval from communicating with the outside world. Animosity rears its head, and will continue to thrive like barnacles on a wretched hull. Paranoia will fester.
Timpson was inspired to helm the feature following his father’s passing, hoping to create the kind of movie they would’ve enjoyed watching together. The death of a parent forces us to face our own vulnerability, fragility, mounting questions without any proper answers, resentment and grief colliding, grasping for some kind of resolution, some kind of closure.
Timpson fed an idea to Toby Harvard, who had written the screenplay to The Greasy Strangler, and Harvard ran with it. The result is a Wild Mouse rollercoaster of genre elements and dynamics, with Timpson and Harvard exhibiting a genuine love and dark delight of 70s cinema, from the movie’s title card, right through to that perfect ending.
The central performances – Wood, McHattie, Martin Donovan, and Michael Smiley - are rich with nuance, exuding the kind of studied characterisation that usually comes from a novel adaptation, and seemingly Come to Daddy feels pulled from the pages of an unknown pulpy paperback fished out at a garage sale and savoured like rare and precious booty. But then Come to Daddy is also the kind of movie that could have been presented in “Odorama” with scratch and sniff cards (pungent kelp, spiced rum, and other foul and exotic smells), but I digress …
It blends silt and bubbles like a potent cocktail. It tickles the funny bone with tangy, absurd moments, then broods menacingly, and suddenly slaps you in the face with surreal violence. It toys with your sensibilities, plays silly buggers with your comfort zone, but deep down, there is a broken heart looking for adhesive, desperate for a stiff whisky and the clutch of a loving hand. It’s an emotional journey indeed, and all the more memorable for it. Come to Daddy is one of my faves of the year.