There’s a moment in Ant Timpson’s 2019 black comedy/thriller Come to Daddy where a character stabs another character with a pen smeared in their own shit. It’s as disgusting as it is hilarious, and as the scene plays out, reveling in the full-on blackly comedic absurdity of it, I finally felt like I’d got a grip on just what type of movie it was I was watching.
At its best when it’s getting sidetracked by its characters petty squabbles (I think my favorite moment involves what amounts to nothing more than a pissing contest about Elton John), Come to Daddy is a strange movie, but it somehow manages to balance its oddball concept, quirky characters and somewhat disappointing finale, and pieces them all together into something far more enjoyable and original than I was expecting.
Telling the story of Norval – an awkwardly unsure of himself hipster, played brilliantly by Elijah Wood (who has been busy reinventing himself as a genre-mainstay) – who heads out to a remote house overlooking the ocean in some Oregon town at the behest of his estranged father, who sent him a letter asking him to come after years of no contact whatsoever, Come to Daddy is a bizarrely humorous, blood-splattered comedy that feels both fresh and yet oddly old school at the same time.
To say much more about the plot would be to spoil the fun of it. And I recommend going in as blind as possible. Starting out as a quiet, yet mysterious, drama about a father and a son struggling to reconnect before morphing into something that’s as much Tarantino as it is The Coen Brother’s Blood Simple, Come to Daddy struggles to maintain the quirky weirdness of its initial “twist”, but remains thoroughly entertaining throughout thanks to some great performances (most notably Michael Smiley, who is having as much fun here as a deranged, unapologetically villainous bad-guy as he has in any other role I’ve had the pleasure of watching him in).
And seriously, what movie isn’t vastly improved by the presence of Michael Smiley?
Visually the film looks great, at first capturing the mood of a dramady, all sunny seaside shots and night-times by the fire, and later spinning on itself and going full-tilt thriller, complete with a seedy Motel with a neon sign and roads bathed in yellow streetlamps. Cinematographer Dan Katz manages to capture both moods with aplomb, and as a result the movie has the appearance of a much more high-end production.
Unfortunately, the script isn’t quite as sharp as its central premise would suggest, and as the movie twists and twists again the jazzy dialogue and enjoyably petty games of one-upmanship that made the first 30 minutes so enjoyable begin to disappear in favor of something a little more predictable and a little less oddball. The movie still manages to keep our attention, but the finally can’t help but feel a little lackluster when it’s placed up against such a spectacular set-up.
The eerie score that composer Karl Steven’s threads throughout builds just the right amount of tension, and perfectly complements Katz’s visuals, while the choice of songs included on the soundtrack range from obscure to chuckle inducing – and every movie should feature a bit of Aphex Twin somewhere.
Perhaps I should have been more prepared for the movie I was about to watch, after all, Timpson and co. do warn us of the oddness of what is about to come when the film opens with two quotes about fatherhood, one from William Shakespeare and the other from… Beyoncé. It’s a moment that made me chuckle, and perfectly foreshadows the kind of weird and hard to pin down peculiarity that it about to follow.
What’s more impressive is that despite its constant twisting and turning, the film never looses sight of its central theme of fatherhood and the relationship between a father and a son. It plays in part like a coming-of-age story, and in that way its strangely satisfying.
Overall, Come to Daddy is a lot of fun. A mystery that plays its card close to its chest, and is happy to lead you along into the unknown, its shaggy dog story style narrative never content to go where you’d expect. While the finale can’t quite live-up to the promise of the previous hour or so, it doesn’t fall enough to spoil the time spent getting there. In this case the journey is very much the point. And while the individual pieces may not be as unique or original as the movie seems to hope they are, much like the aforementioned pen covered in poop, Come to Daddy is like a traditional narrative smeared with gross-out comedy, sudden bursts of gore and a strangely assured sense of off-kilter fun.
Come to Daddy will hit the UK in early 2020 via Signature Entertainment.
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