COME TO DADDY

★★★

A MORBIDLY AMUSING GENRE MASH-UP

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
21st June 2019

There's nothing quite like laughing at something you know you shouldn't laugh at. It's like getting the giggles in church or trying not to to smile at a funeral.

There's something about that release of nervous tension that makes people love black comedies. These films can also shine a light on the darker seams of human nature and let you explore interesting or unusual stories. Disease, death, war and crime dipped in a tinge of light laughs can turn the not very funny realms into a hilarious paradox of fun.

Ant Timpson is best known for his work as a producer of horror and science-fiction films, most notably the ‘The ABCs of Death’ series, ‘The Field Guide to Evil’, and the superlative ‘Turbo Kid’. While he’s been producing great genre films for years now, Timpson has taken up the directorial reins for ‘Come to Daddy’, a darkly comedic thriller that never quite settles on a genre.

Written by 'The Greasy Strangler' co-writer Toby Harvard, the film is based on an original idea by Timpson. Bong Joon-ho said he was inspired to create ‘Parasite’ when he noticed a smudge on his trousers, but Timpson took it to the next level during his Q&A at Sydney Film Festival: “This whole film came about from the passing of my dad. I was there in front of him when he died. It was kind of traumatic. Dad’s partner, whose ex-husband was a mortician, thought it would be great to have a grieving process with his embalmed corpse in a coffin near us for a week. I wasn’t working on anything at the time, so I ended up spending a lot of time alone with him in the house all night.”

We first meet thirtysomething Norval (Elijah Wood, ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy) as he drags his suitcase through a heavily-wooded landscape, then across a beach (where he loses his hat, exposing a Prince Valiant haircut) before arriving at a secluded coastal home. The Beverly Hills DJ/artist is there to reconnect with his absentee father after receiving a cryptic letter asking him to pay a visit.

His dad (the always brilliant Stephen McHattie, ‘Mother!', ‘Watchmen’) doesn’t seem too pleased to see him. The goat-like older man is frequently drunk and delights in humiliating his hipster son. He destroys Norval’s limited edition gold iPhone, exposes his son’s fibs about being mentored by Elton John, and tempts a recovering alcoholic with booze. McHattie is diabolical in these scenes; it is gloriously amusing and unpleasantly tense. Norval is anxious to walk out on his demonic dad, just as the grizzled old man walked out on Norval 30 years ago, but he still wants to know why he sent the letter.

Eventually, things between father and son get a little too intense and... stuff happens. Basically, Norval’s effort to reconnect with his pop costs him a lot more than he had bargained for. As the story progresses and unexpected twists emerge, ‘Come to Daddy’ warps from a psychological thriller into a horror flick and then a very quotable crime movie. Without completely spoiling the central twist, there is a little bit of M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Visit’ and Drew Goddard’s ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ mixed in with Stephen King’s 1984 short story ‘Gramma’.

‘Come to Daddy’ has been polished until it gleams. The highlight, however, is the cast.

From Daniel Katz’s impactful compositions that accentuate sharp contrasts to Karl Steven’s eerie-but-fun score, everything about ‘Come to Daddy’ has been polished until it gleams. The highlight, however, is the cast.

If you’ve seen Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Sin City’, Franck Khalfoun’s ‘Maniac’ remake or even Joseph Ruben’s ‘The Good Son’, you would know that Elijah Wood (a real-life friend of Timpson and a fellow producer of indie films) is a superb horror movie actor. His nebbish Norval is bizarre and pretentious, but ultimately likable and relatable too. In fact, ‘Come to Daddy’ is full of quirky, extremely enjoyable turns from its entire cast. Kiwi comedian Madeleine Sami, in basically a cameo role, feels like she deserves a spin-off film for her mortician character. Michael Smiley (‘Free Fire’, ‘Kill List’, ‘A Field in England’) delivers a self-aware scenery-chewing performance as a villain with a fetish for silky shirts and being strangled by a muscular female escort named Precious.

Martin Donovan (‘Ant-Man’), an actor whose Hal Hartley-era work Timpson discovered while managing arthouse cinemas, apparently complained to the director that he played too many politicians nowadays. He is a breath of fresh air in a comedic but poignant role, his character a dark twin of legendary slacker Jeffrey Lebowski A.K.A. The Dude. His line delivery (particularly during a speech where he describes being offered two unusual meal choices as “like being on a Japanese game show”) had me wheezing with laughter in the cinema.

This film isn’t perfect – the energy level noticeably slackens in the third act (which suffers from an unfortunate lack of Martin Donovan). But the film never drops the ball while constantly juggling tonal shifts, explosions of gore, jokes and pathos.

To paraphrase director Ant Timpson, ‘Come to Daddy’ is for people who laugh when they see somebody walk into a glass door, then laugh even harder when they notice that the person got a bloody nose. I guess I’m one of those troubled souls (or not - studies indicate that an appreciation of dark humour may indicate intelligence and emotional stability), because I found the film to be a delightful and unexpected highlight of the Sydney Film Festival.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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