Sean Brosnan’s merciless “My Father Die” plunges audiences into the deepest, darkest denizens of Southern swamp life. Following a visually enthralling prologue wherein childhood tragedy is witnessed via black-and-white filtering, the film devolves into gruesome revenge porn. Back in the spring of last year, SXSW attendees reported their wild enthusiasm following Brosnan’s debut. However, once the festival hype cools down, movies are often seen exactly for what they are. The film’s insistence on marinating in the deep end – offending an innumerable amount of minority groups in the process – becomes a test of endurance no one should experience.
After being beaten to a pulp by his father, Ivan (Gary Stretch), and watching that same monster kill his brother, Chester (Chester Rushing), Asher (Gabe White) wakes up deaf and anchored by a vengeful heart. Ivan is arrested and subsequently sentenced to prison for over three decades. Approximately twenty years into that sentence, Ivan is released courtesy of good behavior and overcrowding. Upon learning the news, the now adult Asher (Joe Anderson) knows the time for vengeance has arrived. Donning his brother’s signature fox-pelt hat, Asher equips himself with a sawed-off shotgun and heads out to enact bloody justice.
Brosnan leaves no bone un-crunched, no depraved assault ignored. A horrifying rape scene is featured in this film, one that is realistically traumatic but nonetheless exploitative. Refusing to let this unfathomable act define her, Nana (Candace Smith), ex-girlfriend of Chester and Asher’s adulthood love interest, vows retaliation. Smith’s performance is a highlight of the film, nuanced and grounded in maternal responsibility. A single mother living with her son out of a trailer home, Nana’s an unashamed webcam star just getting by. When Asher comes barreling into her life again, Nana’s reminded of their shared past and can’t find it in her heart to turn him away.
Ivan is a demon of immeasurable evil. Near the end of “My Father Die,” mid-bodily destruction, Ivan remarks that he truly loves Asher. The moment is one of the phoniest sentiments in cinema history, one that underscores the film’s larger issue. The father-son relationship is so binary that thematic depth and shades of gray are removed from the equation. Nana is the one character that’s fully allowed to demonstrate variations in her humanity. Brosnan is consumed by style and showcasing pervasive violence that almost nothing is purposeful. Keeping young Asher as narrator softens “My Father Die,” but even that can’t dilute the film’s degrading nature.
Nana’s epic toughness notwithstanding, “My Father Die” is problematic in an even more disturbing fashion than Kevin Smith’s “Red State.” This movie plays like a soulless, amateurish Nicolas Winding Refn revenge fantasy. The cast ingredients and authentic locales are all in place for something spellbinding, but sadly “My Father Die” is regressive, distasteful “art.”
“My Father Die” is distributed by FilmRise and opens exclusively at LA’s Laemmle Monica Film Center and New York’s Cinema Village on Friday, Jan. 20. The film is currently available on VOD.