'Come to Daddy': Film Review

Saban Films
Starts out terrifically, only to go wildly over-the-top.
2/7/2020

Elijah Wood stars in Ant Timpson's darkly comic thriller about a father-son reunion that goes very, very wrong.

Elijah Wood has been forging an interestingly quirky career path since his starring role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He seems to be emulating Nicolas Cage in his offbeat acting choices, and has even produced two of the actor's recent films, Mandy and Color Out of Space. Now comes the supremely weird, hard-to-categorize Come to Daddy, in which Wood delivers the sort of gonzo starring turn that could easily have been turned in by Cage in his younger years.

The film marks the directorial debut of Ant Timpson, whose creative leanings can be easily discerned by the titles of two of his previous producing efforts, The Greasy Strangler and The ABCs of Death. He also provided the idea for this film scripted by Toby Harvard, based on a real-life experience involving Timpson spending a week alone in a house with the embalmed body of his recently deceased father.

That gives you just a hint of the weirdness of this pic in which Wood plays Norval, a thirtysomething hipster sporting a medieval monk haircut and a cellphone "designed by Lorde." As the story begins, Norval arrives at the impressive coastal home, perched over a rocky shore, of his father Gordon (Stephen McHattie). It seems that Gordon, who abandoned his family decades earlier when Norval was a child, had sent a letter summoning him for a reunion.

Gordon seems confused by the arrival of his son, who seems desperate for an emotional connection. Nonetheless, he invites him to stay at the unique house, which Norval accurately describes as looking like "a UFO from the 1960s."

Unfortunately for Norval, what ensues turns out not to be the father-son reunion he was hoping for. The frequently inebriated Gordon proves belligerent, needling and belittling Norval and engaging in macho one-upmanship. Norval, who says he's a big shot in the music industry, makes a big deal of his friendships with various stars, including Elton John, whose real name, he informs Gordon, is Reginald Dwight. His father isn't impressed. "Reginald and I, we go way back," responds Gordon, claiming that he worked as John's chauffeur for 10 years. He even suggests calling the pop star on the phone so the three of them can have a chat.

Things only deteriorate from there, to the point where Gordon attempts to kill his son with a meat cleaver (the proper term for what he's doing is "filicide," he helpfully informs Norvel) only to drop dead from a heart attack in the process.

If you think that's too much of a spoiler, rest assured that there are plenty more plot twists to come. Indeed, Come to Daddy starts out as one kind of film, a darkly comic psychological thriller, before becoming something completely different and far more bizarre. By the time the ultra-violent and twisted proceedings reach their conclusion, we've been introduced to several more characters, including a sympathetic coroner (Madeline Sami, delivering a slyly comic deadpan turn) and a pair of warring criminals (Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley).

Unfortunately, the movie is far more effective in its first half than its second, which degenerates into cheap shocks, absurd plot contrivances and vulgarism for its own sake (including an excrement-covered pen). It's a shame, because the opening section proves deliciously unsettling, thanks to the screenplay that keeps you off-balance and the terrific performances. McHattie tears into his villainous role with the sort of gusto earned by decades of being a hard-working character actor (most moviegoers will recognize his weathered face and voice, if not his name), and Wood brings delicate shadings, both comic and dramatic, to his compelling turn as the emotionally confused man-child. Their scenes together sizzle with an electricity that becomes sadly fizzled out the more outlandish the film gets.   

Production companies: Firefly Films, Blinder Films, Nowhere, Scythia Films
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley, Madeleine Sami, Simon Chin
Director: Ant Timpson
Screenwriter: Toby Harvard
Producers: Mette-Marie Kongsved, Laura Tunstall, Daniel Bekerman, Katie Holly, Emma Slade, Toby Harvard
Executive producers: Tim Headington, Lia Buman, Ant Timpson, Hussain Amarshi, Michelle Craig
Director of photography: Daniel Katz
Production designer: Zosia Mackenzie
Editor: Dan Kircher
Composer: Karl Steven
Costume designer: Angela Ganderton
Casting: Emma Gunnery, Tiffany Mak

Rated R, 95 minutes