'Catch Me Daddy': Cannes Review

Catch me daddy Still Cannes - H 2014
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

Catch me daddy Still Cannes - H 2014

Darkness on the edge of town.

Gritty social realism meets classic western elements in this poetically bleak chase thriller from first-time British director Daniel Wolfe.

CANNES-- Relentlessly bleak in theme and mood, Catch Me Daddy is a noir-ish thriller mostly set in the rugged badlands of the Pennine hills that run like a spine through northern England. It was inspired by true stories of so-called "honor killings" among British-Asian Muslim families, an increasingly topical screen subject that was recently addressed in another low-budget UK feature, Honour. But the fraternal writer-director team of Daniel and Matthew Wolfe largely avoid familiar culture-clash cliches here in a bid to tell a more universal tale of family conflict. The western influence is strong, with John Ford's The Searchers an obvious reference point. Welcome to the Wild North.

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Director Daniel Wolfe scored a cultish internet sensation in 2012 with his music video for Time To Dance by the French band The Shoes, a serial-killer bloodbath starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Screening in the Directors' Fortnight strand in Cannes, Wolfe's feature debut is an uncompromisingly bleak watch full of thick regional accents that may require subtitles even in English-speaking markets, But Catch Me Daddy is also a mature and serious-minded work that will appeal to fans of artfully gritty British social realism in the tradition of Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay.

One of several non-professional cast members, Sameena Jabeen Ahmed makes an impressively fresh screen debut as Laila, a pink-haired teenage rebel who flees from her bullying British-Pakistani father Tariq (Wasim Zakir) to go on the run with her Scottish boyfriend Aaron (Conor McCarron). But Tariq sends a team of bounty hunters to find these young runaways, including Laila's sensitive brother Zaheer (Ali Ahmad) and two hired white thugs, Tony (Billy Elliot veteran Gary Lewis) and Barry (Barry Nunney).

Catch Me Daddy was mostly filmed in Yorkshire, a starkly beautiful region recently voted one of Europe's top tourist attractions. But this grim road movie is emphatically not aimed at the tourist dollar, portraying England's biggest county as a hellish wasteland of trailer parks, grim post-industrial towns, grinding poverty and lawless violence. At times it feels like watching a British Winter's Bone.

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Creeping menace dominates the film's first half, escalating into brutal violence in the second. The ominous ambient score by Daniel Thomas Freeman and Matthew Watson feeds into this slow crescendo of rumbling unease.

Wolfe's team come with classy credentials. Producers Mike Elliott and Hayley Williams have previous credits with Michael Winterbottom, Mike Leigh and Jane Campion while cinematographer Robbie Ryan has worked extensively with Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach. Indeed, he also shot Loach's current Cannes competition contender, Jimmy's Hall. Filming mainly at night on 35mm, Ryan's work is exemplary here, finding lonely poetry in shabby urban spaces and desolate moorland moonscapes.

After a taut and powerful first hour, Catch Me Daddy stumbles a little in its latter stages. A chilling subplot involving Aaron's mother (Kate Dickie) is left frustratingly unresolved. Ahmed's acting inexperience also lets her down in the final scene, a terrifying family showdown which should have had a much more visceral impact. Over the long haul, the Wolfe brother never quite provide enough psychological and emotional ballast to flesh out their complex, conflicted characters. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise confident, gripping, highly charged debut.

Production company: Emu Films

Producers: Mike Elliott, Hayley Williams

Starring: Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Conor McCarron, Gary Lewis, Wasim Zakir, Anwar Hussain, Barry Nunney

Director: Daniel Wolfe

Screenwriters: Daniel Wolfe, Matthew Wolfe

Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan

Editors: Dominic Leung, Tom Lindsay

Music: Matthew Watson, Daniel Thomas Freeman

Sales company: Altitude Film Sales, London

Unrated, 107 minutes