Producers: Mette-Marie Kongsved, Laura Tunstall, Daniel Beckerman, Katie Holly, Emma Slade and Toby Harvard Director: Ant Timpson Screenplay: Toby Harvard Cast: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley, Madeleine Sami, Garfield Wilson, Ona Grauer and Simon Chin Distributor: Saban Films
The first half of Ant Timpson’s thriller is a tense, frequently funny family reunion story, essentially a two-hander with a nasty attitude beneath the eccentric surface. Unfortunately, “Come to Daddy” turns abruptly into a violent gore-fest that might amuse viewers looking for a campy blood-and-guts explosion but will probably turn off those who appreciated the clever opening act.
Elijah Wood stars as Norval Greenwood, a semi-nerdy guy who steps off a bus in a remote stretch of the Northwest, dragging a suitcase behind him. After a long trek over empty terrain he arrives at a weird-looking house propped up on a cliff overlooking the sea. It’s the abode of his long-estranged father, who abandoned the family when Norval was a toddler but has now written him a letter encouraging him to visit.
He’s greeted by his father (Stephen McHattie), a brusque, overbearing fellow who’s alternately warmly welcoming and cynically dismissive as the two get to know one another. He catches Norval in an embarrassing lie about his work and is disgusted when he finds the younger man is a recovering alcoholic. Much of what he says and does is a mixture of ridicule and contempt, and some is very funny, as when he shows little concern for what happens to his son’s valuable phone when trying to take a photo of the two of them together with it.
Then the old man suddenly collapses and dies, and Norval is confronted by an odd policeman (Garfield Wilson) and a compassionate worker from the county medical office (Madeleine Sami), whom he sees as a potential romantic partner. On his own, Norval lapses into drunkenness and dissipation, but is suddenly shocked back into reality by the sudden appearance of two men, one who needs his help (Martin Donovan) and another named Jethro (Michael Smiley) who’s menacing him. How they’re related to Norval’s story won’t be revealed here; suffice it to say there are important revelations about his father’s past and his mother’s role in it, as a result of which Norval will follow Jethro to a nearby motel reluctantly determined to kill him.
The bifurcation evident in “Come to Daddy” makes for a very mixed bag. The initial act of the picture is cannily written and expertly acted by Wood and McHattie, who manage a touch of wit in playing the Sam Shepard-esque material that’s reminiscent of what Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe brought to “The Lighthouse.” Wood’s treatment of his scenes with Wilson and Sami is equally deft, and both of them handle things well too.
But when Donovan (in a distinct change-of-pace part) and especially Smiley (who overacts terribly) enter the scene, things quickly go downhill. The quirkiness that worked nicely in the earlier portion of the movie evaporates, replaced by lots of in-your-face carnage and sleaziness. (Even here, though, Harvard does occasionally insert a witty line, like one involving Michel Heseltine–though he feels compelled immediately to explain it.)
Presumably the notion is that Norval’s ability to deal with situations unlike any he’s ever experienced is key to his re-establishing a relationship with the father he never knew (in more ways than one), but the point is neither clear nor convincing. The last half-hour of the film seems little more than a desperate attempt to curry favor with viewers who savor the sort of mindless semi-comic mayhem so many movies offer nowadays, and would be disappointed with the exercises in verbal strangeness that dominate in the initial hour or so. Whatever the case, for anybody hoping for something fresh, the last-act turn will be dispiriting.
Technically “Come to Daddy” is adequate for a low-budget offering, with Zasia Mackenzie’s production design at its best in the design of the house (with Norval opines looks like a flying saucer from the 1950s), and Daniel Katz’s cinematography similarly good in the film’s first half, deteriorating in the murky, gloomy second.
The first act of “Come to Daddy” is certainly worth a look; the second, not so much.