Come to Daddy (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Getting to know his dad again

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“Come to Daddy” is a mean but entertaining comedy thriller about one problematic father and son relationship. Because the movie depends much on a number of plot turns, I will describe its story and characters as little as possible without spoiling any fun for you, but I strongly recommend you not to read the following paragraphs if you want to enjoy it as much as you can.

The premise of the movie is pretty simple. During the opening scene, we see a young man named Norval (Elijah Wood) arriving at a remote spot in some forest area, and we come to gather that he comes here to meet his father, who has been absent for more than 30 years after abandoning his wife and young Norval for some unknown reason but recently sent a letter to Norval. It looks like he wants to make amends to his son for many years of his absence, but Norval is not so certain about what his father really wants, and he cannot help but feel nervous as walking to a house where his father has resided alone.

When Norval finally arrives at the house and then knocks on its front door, he cannot help but baffled because the old man, played by Stephen McHattie with seething grouchiness, does not greet Norval much. In the letter, Norval’s father expressed his supposedly sincere wish to reconnect with his son, but the old man, whom Norval can barely recognize probably due to many years of aging, does not seem to be that interested in how Norval has grown up and lived, let alone how Norval feels about his father at present.

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Anyway, the old man lets Norval stay in the house, and Norval gradually becomes more uncomfortable as spending more time with the old man, who continues to show more of his mean and callous side. When they have a dinner together, the old man comes to learn that Norval is a recovering alcoholic, and then he does a rather unpleasant act just for galling Norval, who still feels that dangerous craving for alcohol just like many other alcoholics. After the dinner, Norval tells about how much he has been successful in his professional field, but it does not take much time for the old man see through Norval’s words, and that accordingly leads to another moment of shame and humiliation for Norval.

While we come to wonder more about what the old man really wants from Norval, the movie slowly begins to explore that dark area of toxic masculinity. Regardless of whether that letter is sincere or not, the old man seems to be very angry and bitter just because Norval is not tough and manly enough in his viewpoint, and the movie steadily dials up the level of tension on the screen as Norval keeps getting pushed and bullied by the old man. Does he really want to reconnect with Norval? Are all these unpleasant behaviors of his actually the reflection of his twisted fatherly love?

Deftly balancing itself among a number of different possibilities during the first act, the movie depends a lot on the unnerving interactions between its two main cast members. While Elijah Wood, who is no strange to desperately cornered heroes as shown from “Grand Piano” (2013) and “Open Windows” (2014), is believable as his character is pushed into more confusion and nervousness, Stephen McHattie surely has lots of fun with his increasingly sinister role, and they are riveting whenever their characters happen to push and pull each other on the screen.

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After an unexpected moment of surprise, Norval finds himself becoming a lot more nervous and disturbed than before, and the screenplay Toby Harvard, which is developed from a story idea from director Ant Timpson, accordingly throws a number of disturbing signs including a strange noise which seems to be coming from somewhere inside the house. It looks like the old man has some secret behind his back, and a certain famous quote from Shakespeare at the beginning of the film comes to feel more ominous than before.

I do not dare to delve into what will be eventually revealed later in the story, but I can tell you at least that Timpson and his cast and crew members did a fine job of holding our attention to the end. Although the movie loses some of its narrative momentum for an understandable reason during its last act, it still makes us keep guessing what may happen next, and it eventually comes to us as your average twisted noir tale packed with darkly ironic moments including a crucial scene where Norval finally seems to get what he has privately yearned for many years.

The few other main cast members in the film besides Wood and McHattie hold well each own spot. While Martin Donovan and Michael Smiley function well in their respective substantial supporting roles, Madeleine Sami provides some comfort during her brief appearance in the middle of film, and Ona Grauer is also solid as a feisty prostitute who unintentionally tumbles into a circumstance way over her head.

In conclusion, “Come to Daddy” is a modest but efficient genre piece which delivers its wry fun and thrill as much as intended. To be frank with you, I may recommend it to my father someday, and it will be interesting for me to observe how he will respond to it. Well, dad, you have often disappointed and disillusioned me a lot these days, but you are not that lousy in comparison.

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