FrightFest 2019: Come to Daddy

When Norval (Elijah Wood) makes the decision to reconnect with his estranged father, he probably expected some residual awkwardness. He may have expected some long-buried resentments to rise to the surface, for some tempers to flare or even for some long-overdue paternal bonding. He probably didn’t expect that his reunion would include torture, grievous bodily harm and out-and-out murder.

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Wood’s performance as the pretentious, non-confrontational ‘DJ’ Norval is spot on in this riotous genre mash-up. The contemptuous rage with which his father (Stephen McHattie) regards him leads to scenes that veer wildly from the comic to the terrifying. The plot and tone are prone to the kind of violent left turns that writer Toby Harvard is gaining a reputation for.

This kind of emotional whiplash, however, is less effective here than it could be. Many of the sections feel underdeveloped, and although Wood’s emotional performance is stellar, his character feels oddly one-dimensional. It is difficult to imagine that Norval has a life or backstory, and wasn’t conjured into being seconds before the cameras started rolling.

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As a result, the first act tends to drag, with long sections where Norval’s self-obsession is unlikely to be shared by the viewer. Audiences may well find that, 50 minutes into the film’s 90-minute run-time, the lack of any real peril or threat leaves the story feeling toothless and circular. When rumination turns to revenge, however, the film finds its feet.

The third act gear-shift is a welcome jolt, as the film finally begins to make good on the promise of the simmering tension of its early scenes. That tension swiftly boils over into scenes of blood-curdling violence, some of which veer into the gross-out mode. It is bleak, terrifying and hilarious, and more than makes up for the plodding middle section.

Coming from the producer and writer behind the gloriously weird The Greasy Strangler, Come to Daddy was not half the oddball we were expecting. Horror/thriller/comedy hybrids aren’t the surprising gifts that they once were. In fact, these days, it’s almost rarer to find a purebred film that sticks within the strict conventions of a single genre. Come to Daddy has some great sequences, but the tonal shifts can be clunky and awkward, and audiences may become impatient waiting for the film to ‘get going’.

Overall, it’s a promising offering from first-time director Ant Timpson, but it remains somewhat less than the sum of its parts. When the film reaches its third act, we get a glorious, gory and darkly comic thrill ride, but it’s a shame that so much of the run time feels like treading water.


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