Ant Timpson takes estranged family reunions to hellacious depths with “Come to Daddy.” This arthouse mystery derives pleasure from raking Elijah Wood’s gentle onscreen spirit over the flames of madness. Wood’s Norval Greenwood, a self-described music artist, is summoned from the plush safety of Beverly Hills to a dingy lake shore cabin in Oregon. Foreboding Northwestern windchill signals that he is very much a minnow on land. What befalls Norval’s innocuous trip to reconnect with his father is beyond anyone’s wackiest expectation. Despite major story potential brimming in all dark corners, this killer of a thriller neglects its psychological ramifications when the going gets gory.
Abandoned by his father at five-years-old, Norval receives a letter from his dad requesting his presence after all these decades of negligence. Upon his son’s arrival, Old David Greenwood (Stephen McHattie) makes zero attempt to hide his inebriation, nor does he value how far Norval has come after being raised in a single-mother household. Things are awkward even during simple bonding moments like taking pictures. For instance, David’s drunk clumsiness causes Norval to lose his limited-edition phone during a selfie snap. Strangely, Norval is patient with his father’s uncouth attitude. However, any attempt to find common ground is thwarted by David’s insistence on undercutting Norval’s character at every turn. The dysfunction hasn’t subsided all these years, and the truly unsettling discovery is that this stranger of a parent borders on dangerous lunacy.
Intrigue piques when Norval’s perfect facade comes undone. He admits to leading a sober life, an admission which predictably disgruntles David. Norval even goes to pretentious lengths to impress his father, lying that he knows famous musicians and embellishing his music industry clout. This stretch of truth leads to one of the best name-dropping scenes ever, with McHattie evincing the perfect amount of droll skepticism in response. The veteran character is such a roller coaster of visceral reflex and emotional outburst that he manages to elevate an otherwise inane narrative. With fearsome alacrity, Stephen McHattie delivers the year’s earliest glimpse of a strong “Best Supporting Actor” contender.
The bigger puzzle is wondering which genre ensnares Elijah Wood’s paranoia this time. Certain audio cues hint at poltergeist home invasion, while other interactions suggest imminent filicide. Timpson enjoys throwing clues, only to pull the rug from underneath just when viewers believe they’ve figured it out. The downside is that once the movie does show the goods, the taste runs foul. Certain dark comedic elements are difficult to stomach, especially when mountains of gore become obtrusive (and in some cases unnecessary). The film’s gratuitous violence has no greater purpose than pure shock value, lacking the kinetic energy of a Tarantino bloody shoot-out or even the savage yet hypnotic rhythm of a Jeremy Saulnier thriller.
“Come to Daddy” starts off with immense promise by alluding to the inescapable horrors a father can unwittingly attach to their offspring. Yet it devolves into aggressive mutilations and disgusting confrontations. In fact, the indie thriller is the vulgar equivalent of “Jackass” with how far it’s willing to push audiences’ tolerance level. Thematic substance evaporates once the raucous second-half takes over, so focused on topping its visual disgust from scene to scene that it loses all semblance of familial appeal. When it comes to “Come to Daddy,” sometimes it’s best to leave surface level-interactions exactly as they are.