After receiving a note from his estranged father who has been absent from his life for 30 years, Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) attempts to solve the mystery of his father’s departure and why he has suddenly beckoned him to his remote coastal home. Stranger and stranger by the minute, Come to Daddy is a hilarious dark comedy and an incredibly assured feature debut from Ant Timpson. Perfectly cast and never lacking in mystery or tension, the film hides a sinister secret until breaking into a frenetic melange of violence and subsequent teardown of masculinity.
Beginning couched in an eerie atmosphere, Norval attempts to rekindle whatever might still be left of his relationship with his father, Gordon (Stephen McHattie). Antagonizing Norval at every turn, Gordon goes through every old trick in the book from teasing the sober Norval with a glass overflowing with red wine, to calling him out on his successful life in the past three years, to even taking stabs at Norval’s masculinity. This final part is where a lot of Come to Daddy hangs its hat. Conversations with his father turn heated quickly, with his father persistently putting Norval’s sexuality on blast. Devilish in his delivery, McHattie embodies the grizzled, disappointed father character only to set him loose upon his cowardly, effeminate son.
What begins as a two-hander screenplay of a son trying to learn about his father, eventually turns into something much more eccentric, dark, and tense. The cast increases including incredibly fun performances from Michael Smiley and Martin Donovan, each one gleefully tearing into their roles. Seeing them bounce off of Wood’s character is a constant delight. They also shed a lot of their comedic performances for moments of vulnerability that honestly feel genuinely earned amidst the carnage that the second and final act delivers. Watching characters run amok with makeshift weaponry only to stop and reflect upon life itself would seem jarring anywhere else, but because the film exposes masculinity from the outset, those vulnerable moments play into the themes just as effectively as the gleeful violence.
Come to Daddy invests in its central father-son relationship and intentionally aggravates both Norval and the audience. The cold-heartedness of Gordon is there to make things seem off-balance and to put its main character at unease. Unsurprising is that the movie eventually loses itself in its violence and themes, eradicating a lot of the work done narratively – specifically the work done in the second act. Still a thrilling piece of dark entertainment, it just loses the thread at some point and all through the final stretch of Come to Daddy I wondered whether it would be able to piece things together. Its subdued ending feels tender but also feels like it is forgotten some of the early details it concocted as roadblocks.
Even with a less-than-satisfying narrative, the emotional weight that Come to Daddy grapples with and eventually lets surface is compelling enough to go on a violent, mysterious journey. At home with many of the films Timpson has produced over the years, his feature debut is rife with great comedic performances and devious amounts of darkness. The story is merely a device to onboard viewers for what’s to come, but makes a hard shift after its set up to demonstrate the many other ways to explore hypermasculinity. Come for the daddy issues and stay for the mayhem.
Toronto After Dark 2019 runs October 17-25th.