'Come to Daddy' Review: Ant Timpson's Directorial Debut is Dark, Deranged, and Heartfelt

Thanks in large part to Peter Jackson, New Zealand genre films have established themselves in a league of their own, with their twisted senses of humor lending perfectly to darkly comic interpretations of typically terrifying fare. Filmmaker Ant Timpson executive produced two of the better horror films out of the region in recent years, the unconventional approach on haunted house fare in Housebound and the "black metal band fighting the forces of evil" adventure Deathgasm. Timpson's name attached to a project often alerts the audience to the fact that they're in for quite a few surprises, a trend he continues with his directorial debut, the darkly comic and twisted Come to Daddy, which manages to tug at the heartstrings more than many genre efforts.

Norval's (Elijah Wood) father walked out on him and his mom when he was only five, though when a mysterious letter arrives, he can't turn down the opportunity to meet the patriarch at his secluded beach house. The more time the two spend together, the more tensions mount, with the mysterious reasons for the father's departure being only the first unexplainable element of their time together, as one shocking reveal is made after the next, ultimately putting Norval's devotion to his absentee father to the test.

While "New Zealand genre film" will instantly conjure expectations from an audience, the biggest strength of Come to Daddy is how often it surprised the audience and refuses to be labeled. From one scene to the next, it can be a tense family drama, an awkward comedy, a gripping thriller, or an emotional tragedy. To detail any more of the plot would deny audiences the pleasure of the film unraveling as Timpson sees fit, with the narrative momentum he demonstrates ensuring that when the viewer begins feeling comfortable with what they're watching, we take a sharp turn into something else entirely.

From the moment we see Wood's hairstyle, it's quite apparent that his character is meant to be a prototypical "hipster" that would have rather spent the weekend Instagramming Coachella than spending time at the beach with his father. While it would have been easy for this character to have been conveyed as a cartoon, Wood plays Norval with warmth, leading the audience to share sympathy for him. We might not care about the fact that he has a limited edition iPhone designed by Lorde, but we care a lot about his quest for answers from the father who abandoned him. Luckily, the more time that goes by, we connect even more strongly with Norval and the situation he has been thrown into, allowing that sympathy to develop into a deeper connection and investing more in his journey.

The events of Come to Daddy are far from conventional, but the film conveys a universal feeling of abandonment that's hard to escape. Some of us might be able to connect with the notion of an absentee parent, but even if we don't have that specific personal experience, we can grasp the notion of someone who should be close to leaving you behind without warning. This isn't limited to a parent or even a family member, as the concept can also apply to a romantic partner, a friend, or even a mere coworker who cuts all ties without warning. The specificity of a parent abandoning you also results in a unique desire for approval, if only as an act of defiance that you created a life worth living, even if that parent wasn't around to witness it.

Supporting actors Stephen McHattie, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan, and Michael Smiley all portray their characters effectively, though to detail more about their roles will result in a lack of discovery on the part of the viewer, which we'll let you experience for yourselves. These characters might not be as nuanced as Norval, but they serve their purpose in driving the story forward.

With Come to Daddy, both Timpson and Wood are delivering audiences some of their most subtle efforts, while the film itself is never afraid to cut loose and push you entirely out of your comfort zone. What starts as an uncomfortable reminder of the disconnect one can feel with a distant family member ultimately descends into bloody madness in the quest of approval from those who have left you behind.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Come to Daddy had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.