“As sons, we always have unfinished business with our fathers. So I thought, ‘What would happen if that unfinished business came looking for us?‘” This is a quote from Ant Timpson in promotion of his feature directorial debut film Come to Daddy, which recently had its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, April 25th.
The quote cannot be more spot on for what kind of experience this film displays for us, and it stars an eclectic, intimate cast of actors such as Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings 2001, Wilfred series); Stephen McHattie (300 2005, Watchmen 2009); Martin Donovan (Weeds series, Big Little Lies series); Michael Smiley (Kill List 2011, The Lobster 2015); Madeleine Sami (Super City series, The Breaker Uppers 2018); and Simon Chin (Outcast 2014, Killing Eve series). Additionally, it comes from a twisty screenplay by Toby Harvard (ABCs of Death 2 2014, The Greasy Strangler 2016), based off an initial concept that Timpson had.
Family dysfunction has been the backbone for terrific, meaty storytelling for as long as film has been in existence; it’s a universal theme that has been used through and through within all different genres. However, when you strip it down to a father and son’s tumultuous relationship and have it simply spiral out of control to a ludicrous degree like this darkly comedic Thriller does, that’s when things can truly feel fresh.
Here, acclaimed indie genre producer Timpson makes his overdue feature debut with Come to Daddy. A simple cautionary tale centering on a privileged man-child in his thirties named Norval (Wood) who goes to a remote cabin to visit his estranged father who had abandoned him when he was just a kid. However, as you would imagine, things do not go as expected and Norval’s father might not be who he says he is.
Now it’s absolutely no surprise that this was the kind of story Mr. Timpson wanted to tell, as his previous films as a producer, 2014’s Housebound and The Greasy Strangler specifically, both deal with wacky family antics that are pushed to the extreme. Though those films, as enjoyable as they were, felt very cartoonish and heavily over the top. Come to Daddy is quite refreshing considering it is far more grounded and based slightly more in reality. Now that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t go to wild dimensions. In fact, there is quite an admirable and incredibly entertaining fight sequence between Wood’s character and a barbaric goon (Chin). Just think twice before you barge in on someone going to the bathroom – that’s all we are saying.
When Norval gets the invitation from his father to come visit his cabin in what feels like the middle of nowhere, things instantly get off to a bad start. Norval is so desperate to connect with his father even being caught in a lie about how he works in the entertainment industry and is good friends with Elton John. It is very painful to watch Norval try so hard and get absolutely nothing in return from his father; something most sons can relate to at least just a little bit. Wood embraces those puppy dog eyes of his and plays it up perfectly in this, making the dynamic between him and his polar opposite, hateful father even more disheartening to sit through. Sitting through the first chunk of this film you will certainly be engaged in the destructive relationship the two have going. However, you may find yourself thinking how the hell is this relationship going to sustain the rest of the film? It just does not seem like it could emotionally go any further at a certain point.
There is quite a big reveal that happens not soon after Norval reunites with his father that there’s no need to spoil, though it is quite chilling and wonderfully executed. Once this big reveal is unleashed, the story continues to unfold, revealing more and more dark things about Norval’s father’s past as he discovers the true sinister nature of it all. This twist forces Norval to grow up and battle demons both real and perceived. The cast is top notch and everyone seems to have their moment in the sun: whether it’s Smiley turning it up to eleven and having a blast, or Wilson playing a strange policeman convinced that evil people have “raisin eyes.”
The cast is flawless, though the stand-out was McHattie who seemed to crank up the tension in literally every frame of every scene he took part in. To elaborate on his character further would just spoil the rest of the film for you, but rest assured he is terrific. That in mind, the film will surely hold your interest for a good chunk of its lean 93-minute runtime. It has twists, it has turns, it has a little violence, some whacked-out moments, a great backdrop, and strong performances.
Unfortunately, as with most intimate indie genre films, the momentum runs out around the third act. Once Norval is out for revenge and is thrust into some weird underbelly involving a sketchy motel being inhabited by a bunch of swingers (or geologists as the strange and hilarious motel clerk, played by Raresh DiMofte, tells us), the film starts to dip into meandering silliness.
Wacky third acts are totally fine if the film earns it, and though this film earned it to an extent, it didn’t seem to have much faith in its own third act escalation. You could tell the director and the actors truly wanted to push it all the way, but it never fully got there. Certainly there are some intense and fun moments along the way, but it is not certain that it truly lived up to its full potential.
With a premise as promising as this was for at least 2/3 of its duration, there’s no excuse for why it didn’t continue on that promise and just go nuts. Though as stated, that is not to say that the film is an underwhelming experience. In fact, the complete opposite. It certainly delivers enough genre flare to keep you entertained enough, as well as a lovely final moment between Wood and his father that might even have the power to reconcile real life fathers and sons on the right day.
Overall, Come to Daddy is well-acted, well-shot, and well-constructed; all great things, but in the long term it is debatable how much power this film will truly have. However, it should be said that Timpson has a ton of potential to continue directing movies. Yes, he has been producing some unique indies of late, but this man seriously needs to exploit more of his own vision to the world because he certainly has one. As much as some might have enjoyed Housebound or The Greasy Strangler, they were just far too bizarre to fully get invested in. Something like Come to Daddy is a perfect balance of wacky and grounded and Timpson can explore much, much more in the long term. Only time will tell, but hopefully it’s not too much time. Until then, Cryptic Rock gives Come to Daddy 3.5 out of 5 stars.