Review: Come To Daddy is short on substance

Elijah Wood delivers a giddy performance in Ant Timpson’s twist-filled seriocomic thriller


COME TO DADDY (Ant Timpson). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (February 7). See listing. Rating: NNN


Ant Timpson’s Come To Daddy is a seriocomic thriller with a great many twists and a positively giddy performance by Elijah Wood as the hapless twerp on whom those twists are played. So if that’s what you’re looking for in a movie, have at it. 

For my part, while I can appreciate the energy and invention of Timpson’s first directorial effort from moment to moment, it’s a little short on substance.

Set mostly at a remote house on the Pacific coast, Come To Daddy is about a young man named Norval (Wood) who’s gone out there at the request of the father he hasn’t seen in years. The man he finds there (Stephen McHattie) seems a lot crankier and more combative than he ought to be for someone looking to make up for lost time.They talk, they fight, they talk some more – and then the power dynamic changes radically, opening the story up to new characters who complicate Norval’s life in ways he couldn’t possibly have predicted.

As good as McHattie is, this is Wood’s movie. Toby Harvard’s screenplay is committed to throwing poor Norval headlong into a series of increasingly preposterous situations, and Wood finds specific new notes to play in each one of them, building a symphony of long-buried resentments, squirmy self-justification and mounting panic. It’s like watching someone play the improv game of “Yes, and…” for an entire night, and slowly coming to realize it’s never going to end.

Yet for all that, the movie doesn’t get wild enough around the one-hour mark – right around the time someone produces a genuinely revolting torture device – it becomes clear that neither Havard nor Timpson aspire to anything more than bloody chaos, and the film’s sense of antic possibility is replaced by glum, gruesome pettiness. It turns out the earlier hints at depth or feeling were just that, the central mystery of what Norval’s father wants from him is disappointingly prosaic.

It’s not like I was expecting zombies or aliens, but a film that works so hard to give you the sense that literally anything can happen ought to be able to deliver something more than this.

For some, the number of twists and the enthusiasm with which they’re delivered will be enough, and that’s fine Come To Daddy’s swerving storytelling was the talk of a number of genre festivals last year, including Toronto After Dark.

But I don’t think I’m alone in hoping Timpson’s next picture has more to it – especially if he gets a star as game and gifted as Wood.

@normwilner

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