When you’re dealing with a film as self-consciously odd as Ant Timpson’s directorial debut Come To Daddy, casting is so important. Get it wrong and you end up with something infuriating, get it right and it can be a joy. This is why there’s a real thrill to be had from seeing Pontypool’s Stephen McHattie open the door to Elijah Wood’s awkward hipster as the latter arrives at his estranged dad’s “UFO from the 60s” seaside home. Their scenes together bristle with tension and anxiety, veering between hilarious and unsettling with a twitch of McHattie’s eyebrow.
For all the weirdness to come, the heart of Norval’s quest is pretty simple. He wants to reconnect with his old man, to find out why he abandoned his family when Norval was five years old, and why he’s finally sent a letter asking him to visit decades later. The way the opening is shot, with Norval appearing from under a giant hat to make his way through the woods to the seaside house, arriving in tandem with the vintage-style title treatment, suggests an old school emotional quest.
But Pops has no interest in that. He’d rather needle at this kid who’s shown up with a limited-edition Lorde-designed gold phone (which is promptly dropped in the ocean), gleefully picking holes in his stories about his success in the music industry and tempting him to fall off the wagon.
To go any further into the film’s plot would be to spoil the surprises that Timpson and writer Toby Harvard have cooked up, but while you can frequently tell that it comes from the co-author of The Greasy Strangler, Come To Daddy leans into curdled noir territory more than it does horror. There are buried secrets, shady characters with unusual interests, and Norval very rarely has much of an idea of what’s actually going on. The supporting cast is relatively small but packed with well-cast ringers: Michael Smiley (sporting a wig that makes him resemble a violent Weird Al) and Martin Donovan are having an absolute blast, but The Breaker Upperers Madeleine Sami ends up stealing most of her scenes as a voice of reason in a sea of eccentrics.
Once the film starts laying its cards on the table and getting down to the real business at hand, a lot of the delightful tension of the opening two-hander does start to dissipate, replaced by sordid chuckles and enjoyably clumsy, brutal violence. The nuts and bolts of the mystery itself and its resolution aren’t as strong as the opening, but it’s also at this point that the film begins to move its heart to centre stage for a surprisingly touching finale as the disconnect between fathers and sons becomes a recurrent theme. Once again, the casting is key, as Wood consistently plays Norval as a lost young man looking for answers. He may not like the ones he gets, but the drive and desperation he has to make some kind of connection with his father, to fill in the blanks of those lost years, keeps the whole thing rooted in a real and surprisingly affecting drama.
Come To Daddy was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.