Come to Daddy is the debut feature from director Ant Timpson, best known for founding New Zealand’s 48Hours film competition and producing Turbo Kid, The ABCs of Death, and celebrated cinematic irritant The Greasy Strangler. It screened as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Film Fesival.
Come to Daddy begins as a classic estranged father story. We meet Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) as he arrives on the doorstep of his father’s remote (and architecturally bold) clifftop pad. Norval is responding to a letter received from his father, suggesting a reconciliation, and pays a visit to the man he has not seen since he was three years old… to say they don’t hit it off is something of an understatement.
His father (Stephen McHattie) is annoyed, belligerent and frequently drunk. Norval is understandably uncomfortable and matters are compounded when he is caught in a lie, trying to impress his Dad. It doesn’t take long for events to come to a head.
With Come to Daddy, Timpson has teamed up with Strangler writer Toby Harvard and delivered a much more accessible, much more likeable and yet still firmly oddball horror movie. Although it does get off to an unbalanced start. The film doesn’t quite get the tone right to begin with and a lot of the early comedy sails quite wide off the mark. For the first half an hour or so, Come to Daddy skates that very thin ice between charmingly weird and annoyingly weird. But then, suddenly, the movie takes a pleasingly gory upward turn.
Come to Daddy is one of those films where some seemingly basic plot details can land us firmly in spoiler territory. But it doesn’t give anything away to say the escalation of violence is not entirely dissimilar to something Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) might come up with if he had a more comedic sensibility. It is swift and brutal, and in one surprising sequence, reminds us of Pascal Laugier’s definitely-not-funny Martyrs.
Elijah Wood is always good value, and it when it comes to horror movies he definitely knows his stuff. Wood’s presence alone should probably tip you off to the fact Come to Daddy is worth your time. As Norvall, he is amusingly styled as “an L.A. douche”, as Timpson put it in a post-screening Q&A. But despite his ridiculous appearance and propensity for self-aggrandisement, he remains a likeable presence. A meek guy forced to extremes.
Stephen McHattie is great also. He’s immediately dislikeable and off putting. Long before he becomes outright abusive and aggressive, he gives both Norvall and audience the same sense that something is wrong. While the brilliant Michael Smiley (Kill List, Free Fire) sneers every line he’s given, as a grotesque, creepy and all round nasty-piece-of-work.
Despite some early chatter about Come to Daddy being quite moving, let’s not go overboard. The only thing that might be moved here is your stomach contents. But there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve simply got a classic events-spiralling-out-of-control yarn told very well, and some lovely, imaginative blood and guts to contend with. Timpson has delivered a very entertaining debut that will greatly appeal to horror fiends and fans of black comedy.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘Come to Daddy’ is currently on its festival run. This film was seen as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.