Come to Daddy effectively uses visuals to set an unsettling tone, with director Ant Timpson also deploying the best of his actors’ talents to catalyse a mid-film explosion of gory anarchy. Although the film slightly loses while accelerating to its conclusion, the splatter of dark comedy and dysfunctional father-son dynamics is always engaging and frequently smart.
In Come to Daddy, Elijah Wood stars as Norval Greenwood, a young urbanite with a hipster moustache and a multi-hyphenate vocation description. He has been summoned by his estranged father to the older man’s spacious home, which overhangs the Washington state coast like a wood-panelled UFO. Once there, the disconnect between his own views and that of his drunken host becomes deeply apparent, exacerbated by a lack of explanation from Gordon (Stephen McHattie) about why he bothered to contact Norval at all.
The dynamic between Norval and Gordon is an interesting one, emblematic of the more poisonous aspects of the dynamic between a younger generation and its baby boomer/Gen X antecedents. Also woven through Come to Daddy is a reflection on the changing face of masculinity in the 21st century. These two issues come through most clearly when Norval and Gordon trade insults, with the unvarnished aggression of the older man cowing his son, whose timid vocalization of his discomfort amounts to little more than impotent pleading.
The mode in which much of these early interactions operate is darkly comedic. As Gordon spits insults at Norval, there is a humour in the earnestness of millennials being hoisted by their own woke petard. Additionally, in a conversation about his supposed work with Elton John, Norval is shown before this to be a gormlessly posturing naïf. Crucially, however, even if Gordon has more guile, his intolerance is never presented as being misunderstood, and he is instead unambiguously shown by the close of this segment as incorrigibly awful. Establishing this dynamic forms the opening act of the film, and Come to Daddy subsequently undergoes two clear gear changes of pacing and focus, the second of which shifts the film into blood-soaked overdrive.
Initially, the brakes are pumped to decelerate into a more atmospheric approach to the horror. Here, Norval’s growing paranoia, based on the clinking and clanking of the house, and its remote and creepy setting, is the primary source of tension. During this period, Timpson’s framing and blocking work extremely well alongside Wood’s performance in conveying his slipping mental state. There are also enjoyably surreal interactions with locals, establishing the odd encounters Norval will experience later in the film. The story cruises along in this manner, until that second shift towards the comically rampageous finale.
This final segment of Come to Daddy features the best use of the cast’s talent. Michael Smiley, probably best known to cinema audiences through Ben Wheatley’s work (Kill List, Free Fire), has an antagonistic role and displays the same wigged out charisma that has been his stock in trade since his time on Spaced. Wood’s capacity for credulous confusion also comes to the fore beautifully, bouncing off Smiley and others to deliver an entertainingly unpredictable throwdown.
Throughout, Ant Timpson shows great skill in handling these turns in the narrative and tone. By the time the dust settles on the film’s final act, some of the thematic interest has undoubtedly dissipated. However, as Come to Daddy inventively tears towards its conclusion, the story remains engaging as a result of the patience displayed in those early stages.
Jim Ross (@JimGR) is a film critic and film journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Managing Editor and co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, which began as the official review publication of the Cambridge Film Festival and now covers film festivals and independent film worldwide. Jim hosted a fortnightly film radio show on Cambridge 105FM from 2011-2013 and joined the crew of Cinetopia, on Edinburgh community radio EH-FM, in 2019.