Screening as part of FrightFest 2019, Ant Timpson’s directorial debut COME TO DADDY deftly mixes black comedy and psychological suspense with moments of horror and outright gore in an original take on father-son conflict.
The film begins as Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) travels to the remote home of estranged father Gordon (Stephen McHattie) in response to a letter from dear old dad seeking to reconnect with his son some 30 years after their last contact. Suffice it to say, things don’t exactly go as Norval might have imagined. After an initially warm greeting, the dynamic between the pair begins to sour, with the irascible (and increasingly drunk) Gordon baiting and humiliating his son at every opportunity, and refusing to explain his reasons for inviting him there in the first place. At this point, the pair are portrayed as the archetypal cinematic odd couple, with Norval’s millennial ‘snowflake’ sensibilities (he is an aspiring DJ/musician/social media influencer) set starkly against Gordon’s unreconstructed version of masculinity. Working through a series of narrative and generic twists and turns, the terms of this father-son dynamic are progressively unsettled, and revealed to be much more complex than they first appear.
While the film knowingly signals its debt to a range of conventions — from the backwoods horror and the black comedy to the psychological thriller — it combines them into something new and keeps the viewer guessing at every turn. Although some of the dialogue falls a bit flat (scenes with two of the locals seem particularly forced), the film benefits from especially good central performances from its cast — with special mention going to the uproariously demented character Jethro, played by KILL LIST’s Michael Smiley. Similarly, Daniel Katz’s cinematography enhances the eeriness of the isolated setting, with frame compositions that are controlled and precise, and then suddenly pitched just off-horizontal to produce a woozy, almost subliminal sense of dread.
COME TO DADDY mines the father-son conflict as the primary source of uneasiness, revising expectations about the importance of filial responsibility and raising important questions about the status of contemporary masculinity, and what it takes to be a ‘real’ man in the 2010s. To the film’s credit, while it skewers the millennial generation’s fey sensibilities, it doesn’t side with the older generation’s openly cut-throat approach to life either. Rather, the film leaves viewers to mull over these differences and how they might be bridged in an ending that is as touching as it is disturbing. Overall, COME TO DADDY is a grimly entertaining meditation on what happens when the sins of the father are laid upon the millennial son.