You better strap in when you sit down for Come to Daddy, because the directorial debut from Turbo Kid and Deathgasm producer Ant Timpson is an elusive, endlessly shocking thrill ride. Built around some brutal daddy issues and finding the cracks in broken relationships where something new can flourish, Come to Daddy is always zigging when you expect it to zag, with tongue firmly in cheek and heart proudly on its sleeve (whether that’s a heartfelt moment or just a bit of arterial spray depends on the scene.)
Elijah Wood stars as Norval, an awkward and effete thirty-something who grew up in Beverly Hills luxury and walks around desperate to discover the connection his life lacks. Recovering from alcohol dependency and depression, Norval endows himself with a false sense of glamor, as flashy and put on as the gold-plated limited-edition iPhone he clutches to. When Norval receives a letter from his long-lost father, who fucked off and left behind his wife and child decades ago, he treks out to his dad’s remote waterside cabin in search of the family reunion he’s always dreamed of. But Norval’s hopes fall apart as fast as his pretenses when he arrives square in the brittle arms of Brian (Stephen McHattie); a real bitter, mean old bastard who never shows an ounce of affection towards his son, let alone giving Norval the affirmation he so desperately needs.
Fortunately, if Norval is lost in his search for identity, Come to Daddy suffers no such problems. (No film that begins with a one-two punch of quotes from William Shakespeare and Beyonce could be accused of lacking identity.) It takes a bit of time to get moving, but Timpson establishes a distinct tone and voice early on, and rarely loses his grip on it, no matter how many wild, jarring detours and misdirects he throws at the audience. And this movie is wild.
But first, it’s savage. The interactions between Norval and his long-lost father are a horrible train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of, and McHattie chews up, savors, and spits out every vicious barb that Timpson and screenwriter Toby Harvard give him. Harvard previously co-wrote The Greasy Strangler, so if you’ve seen that film, you know how poisonous he can make a father-son dynamic, and Come to Daddy‘s script puts Wood and McHattie toe-to-toe in a series of spectacularly toxic interactions.
Come to Daddy isn’t just a shocker for its violence and unexpected trajectory, but for the tenderness and emotional resonance beneath it all. Yes, it’s a cheeky, zig-zagging narrative that thrills in subverting expectations, and no doubt the violence is there – a particularly gory, extended sequence absolutely brought the house down at the Fantasia debut – but the biggest treat comes when those outrageous revelations somehow make the film even more grounded.
It’s one of those movies you want to know as little as possible about, but let’s just say it also features a pair of fantastically fun and camped-out pair of performances from Michael Smiley and Martin Donovan as a pair of old rivals, a couple more real rough characters, who get thrown into the mix. And Wood grounds it all in his understated but endearing performance as Norval, the straight man in the madness who’s always wide-eyed in shock or terror or dismay at his confounding circumstances.
Sketched out with broad genre strokes and big, unruly emotions, Come to Daddy is one heck of a midnight movie that’s all but guaranteed to thrill the genre crowd. But for those who have the stomach for the bloody antics, Timpson also laces in solid character work and some delicious micro-moments between the chaos, letting his actors make a meal of every scene. Funny and fucked in the head with a cartoonish sense of humor that borders on magical realism, Come to Daddy is a strange brew, but it’s a good one.