COME TO DADDY movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

COME TO DADDY movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

Rating: R
Stars: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Martin Donovan, Madeleine Sami, Garfield Wilson, Michael Smiley
Writer: Toby Harvard, idea by Ant Timpson
Director: Ant Timpson
Distributor: Saban Films
Release Date: February 7, 2020

COME TO DADDY is the kind of movie that causes a reviewer to think long and hard about how difficult it is to complete a movie and secure distribution. These things are no small achievement, and filmmakers who reach this finish line deserve congratulations.

With this in mind, it should be noted that COME TO DADDY is shrewdly cast, very well-acted, and has clever twists, great production design and beautiful scenery.

COME TO DADDY technically qualifies as a thriller, and it seems to aspire to be a deadpan black comedy. It achieves the deadpan and the darkness, but it is never funny.

Elijah Wood plays Norval, a thirty-five-year-old who, we gather, is at loose ends in his life. Responding to a letter from his father, Norval ventures out to a lovely, isolated house to reunite with the old man (Stephen McHattie). Dad deserted wife and son when Norval was five, and hasn’t been heard from again until now.

Dad at first seems overjoyed to see Norval, but that changes quickly. Norval is a recovering alcoholic; Dad is an abusive drunk. Things go from bad to worse. Then Norval begins seeing and hearing things. Or is he? There is an enormous plot twist at roughly the halfway mark. At this point, COME TO DADDY becomes more eventful, and considerably bloodier. However, it doesn’t get any deeper, and it’s been so smug for so long that it’s hard to imagine getting drawn in at this late juncture.

Norval is presented as hapless and pathetic, but he’s also needlessly pretentious. We’re supposed to feel contempt for him, but still be curious about what’s going on here. Despite Wood’s sincerity, that’s a tall order under the circumstances. Without being invested in Norval, it’s even more difficult for us to care about (or even much believe in) the outlandish mayhem that slowly piles up around him.

McHattie is a properly ornery, unpredictable and scary figure. Other important roles are filled by Martin Donovan, who seems closest to getting the tone on track, and Michael Smiley as a sadist.

Although it is set somewhere in the U.S., COME TO DADDY was shot in New Zealand. The scenic vistas are visually alluring. Dad’s house really is something special, situated at the water’s edge with great views.

COME TO DADDY seems to be aimed at a very specific viewership, mainly those who like drawn-out set-ups and are amused by none-too-bright and none-too-kind individuals in increasingly precarious predicaments. It may be that those in the target audience will enjoy it. It is to be hoped that everyone else has now been sufficiently forewarned.

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