APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: COME TO DADDY (2019)

DIRECTED BY: Ant Timpson

FEATURING: Elijah Wood, , Michael Smiley,  Martin Donovan

PLOT: Norval receives a letter from his long-estranged father, begging him to come to his remote home to reconnect; daddy is not who he seems, but he does have a lot of deadly associates holding long-simmering grudges.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The word “quirky” lurked around the back of my mind throughout the first half, until a plot spasm of strange violence brought the weird levels up to floodgate-breaking point.

COMMENTS: Appropriately for a plot that hinges on a theft, there is a whole lot of stealing in the movie: stealing of scenes (not to mention chewing of scenery). That’s to be expected from a film featuring some of the best characters actors in the business, each one-upping the other as the craziness volcano erupts. The heavy lifting (and grand larceny) is done most by Elijah Wood, who surprised me equally with his capacity to normalize the narrative while drawing attention to himself with perhaps the most nerd/hipster/pratt/ mama’s boy character I have ever seen. (While rocking one of the worst haircuts ever to grace the big screen.)

Wide-eyed, apprehensive Norval (Wood) steps off a bus close to the middle of nowhere, California, and walks on foot while rolling a massive suitcase along with him. When he arrives at “a UFO that crashed in the ’60s”-style cabin, he meets his father (Stephen McHattie), whom he has not seen for three decades. They bond, or try to, but mostly Norval endures of varying degrees of abuse. Norval is a recovering alcoholic who describes himself as a combination DJ, pianist, beat-layer, and event organizer; what his father describes him as I cannot type, but the description is apt. At one point mid-rant, his father’s dander rises so high that he has a fatal heart attack while threatening his boy with a butcher knife. Then what’s actually going on starts coming to light.

Watching it with a packed house on a Friday night, I noticed two related things: the audience was far too eager to laugh at things that probably warranted silence, and Come To Daddy‘s sheer oddness (and intensity) was insidious. Rabid fans of Stephen McHattie burst out laughing at the drop of a pin; I sat quietly wondering what, if anything, was going to make a payoff that warranted my attention. The arrival of Michael Smiley’s character (a kind of a twisted, drunken, deadbeat heir to A Field in England‘s effete and sinister O’Neal) turned out to be the harbinger of the film’s madness, and once this madness set in, it did not relent.

As I mentioned above, it doesn’t feel like a slow build up so much as a massive explosion. I came close to writing this off as a wasted outing, as I had with a previous Fantasia buzz-puffed disappointment, 68 Kill. Rarely have I been happier to have been proven wrong, as the investment of my time and focus handsomely paid off. I was left, though, with the burning question, how in Heaven’s name did they get Elijah “Frodo Baggins” Wood to go through this suffering on-screen? But good for him. I look forward to him embracing the role of character actor—albeit on a quite different pay scale than his confrères.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘Come to Daddy’ struggles to maintain its zany energy through the final act, and a concluding hotel room showdown unfolds like a quirky, half-hearted sketch comedy in the shadow of the more alluring weirdness leading up to it. Even so, it’s punctuated by a violent act so cartoonish and bizarre it brings the story back to its strengths… the movie finds its way to a bizarre form of closure that illustrate Timpson’s confidence in this strange genre brew. By the end, it all suddenly clicks.”–Reic Kohn, Indiewire (festival screening)

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