GORE IN THE STORE
COME TO DADDY
Directed by Ant Timpson. Starring Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Michael Smiley. Horror, 93 mins 15.
Reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest August 2019.
Gifted with the honour of opening the twentieth anniversary of FrightFest a film examining the relationship between an estranged father and son, or complete lack of one, may come across as a leftfield choice for such a festival. However, Ant Timpson's directing debut gradually revealed its true bloody colours. Known primarily as a producer who has brought a series of offbeat gems to the screen including TURBO KID and THE GREASY STRANGLER, with the help of co-screenwriter Toby Harvard, this is an unpredictable and surprising debut that carries the same offbeat, midnight movie energy as those films above.
Elijah Wood takes centre stage as Norval, a hipster and self-proclaimed "purveyor of sick beats" who immediately comes across as out of place when he arrives onscreen decked out in flowing smock and floppy hat to visit his estranged father, who has sent a letter asking for a long-overdue reunion at his remote cabin in the woods. That said cabin resembles "a flying saucer from the nineteen sixties" and his hard-drinking father Gordon is played by the always excellent and often unnerving Stephen McHattie gives Norval, and the audience, that something is not quite right here. To tell or even hint at what is not right here would rob the viewer of the surprises that await herein and the entertainingly nervy, funny and violent way that they unfold and progress.
COME TO DADDY is a film that delights in wrong-footing its audience in terms of storyline, genre and character. The story may come across as slight when all is said and done, but Timpson proves himself a stylish director with an excellent grasp of shifting tone. Wood's wide-eyed, nervous performance matches up perfectly with McHattie's gruff, angry energy. One early scene involving a discussion about a particular bespectacled pop star smartly highlights the disdain McHattie's Gordon holds for Norval. Added to this double act later is Michael Smiley as Jethro, a mullet-wearing heavy who is capable of doing horrible things with just a pen. Smiley has always been a performer who has excelled in both comedy and drama and manages to combine both here to significant effect. That he also gives the greatest slice of dialogue that you are ever likely to hear about Michael Heseltine in cinema ever is just a bonus for the viewer.
COME TO DADDY is an offbeat exercise that may not suit all tastes. Though never as extreme or as surreal as the likes of THE GREASY STRANGLER it delights in making the viewer uncomfortable as often as possible. The tension slightly deflates in the last third of the film when it opens itself out and reveals itself for what it truly is. Without veering into spoiler territory, it can be said that after all the ensuing violence and mayhem a muted, yet emotional coda touchingly brings the madness to a close.
As remarked upon in the film's post Q&A, it was a sad experience with Timpson's father that inspired COME TO DADDY. While thankfully it was one that was not as violent or as surreal as the one that he has brought to the screen here it shows that Timpson is unafraid to convey vulnerability and emotion that is rarely taught in such genre films. It is a trait that marks out his directorial debut as a singular, entertaining debut that could go on to show that he may have just as an exciting and varied future in directing as he has had with producing.