COME TO DADDY is a very engrossing and unclassifiable…thriller or something where Elijah Wood, decked out in the worst haircut/mustache combo current technology can provide, goes to a remote part of Oregon to visit the dad who abandoned him 25 years ago. He walks through the wilderness to this big house with a really impressive elevated viewing room overlooking a lake. Stephen McHattie (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, BASEKETBALL, 300, SHOOT ‘EM UP, WATCHMEN, 2012, THE TALL MAN, WOLVES, mother!, DEATH WISH, RABID) answers the door and it’s unclear if he even knows why he’s there.
It’s all about tension and discomfort. Wood’s character Norval is patient and polite with his dad, who has a strong drunk-asshole-trying-to-pass-off-condescension-as-friendliness vibe. He alternates between seeming friendly and harmless and outright cruelty. He tries to pour a glass of wine, Norval tells him he doesn’t drink, a generously non-judgmental way of indicating that he inherited his alcoholism and has struggled with it. Dad’s response is to chug his glass and ask “Tempted?” Ha ha. Funny, Dad.
Of course you are empathetic and you identify with Norval in this situation, but I like that he’s not a perfectly reasonable guy. He’s kind of laughable. You notice right away that he’s some kind of hipster who wears a Richard Stanley hat, Doc Martens, trenchcoat length cardigans and arm-warmers. Then he lights up when he gets a window to brag about being a DJ and producer of “blazing beats” to this guy who clearly, definitely, unequivocally is not going to be impressed by him namedropping Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper as “allies.” I think he actually is supposed to be a famous musician, but you don’t really know. He might just not want to admit that he’s sponging off his mom in Beverly Hills.
I would recommend just watching the movie if you’re intrigued, but if I don’t have you yet, I will SPOIL the first big left turn. The antipathy between the two boils over until Dad comes running at him with a meat cleaver… and then has a heart attack and drops dead. He calls his mom, but she won’t be able to get there for a few days. He calls the police and doesn’t tell them there was a struggle. I enjoyed his strange, maybe kind of Coen-Brothersy encounters with the police officer (Garfield Wilson, EDISON FORCE), who gives him a Larry David style stare down, and the coroner, Gladys (Madeleine Sami, SLOW WEST), who “has no filter” and talks intimately with so he gets the wrong idea and starts hitting on her.
This isn’t as much of a hook as it may sound like, but after the autopsy the body comes back to the house, due to some local storage issue that Gladys acts like shouldn’t seem that weird or surprising. She also suggests that he should talk to the body for closure. He doesn’t really do that, but sometimes he yells at his dad when he hears strange noises in the house and starts to lose it.
At some point, Martin Donovan (THE OPPOSITE OF SEX) is in it. I bet filming this was pretty different from his Hal Hartley days. There’s some gore and screaming agony involved. Norval gets to that stage of life you try to avoid where it’s time to find out if you know how to stab a guy. I did some wincing.
I wouldn’t call it a horror movie, and it’s not a traditional crime movie. It’s grimly humorous with some big laughs, but not straight-ahead comedy. I guess maybe if you had to put it in a category, maybe it’s whatever category CHEAP THRILLS is in? With a little bit of the Butch chapter of PULP FICTION in its visceral, oh-shit turns of events.
The cast is strong, especially McHattie. He’s one of those actors I’ve seen a bunch of times but don’t ever remember who he is. I guess he’s in half or less of the movie, but it’s such a dead-on depiction of that type of mean but kind of funny but what a piece of shit drunk that it seems to fuel the whole movie.
Director Ant Timpson is from New Zealand, and I’ve heard of him as a film collector, I think film festival programmer and definitely producer of TURBO KID and THE GREASY STRANGLER and stuff. But now he’s a writer-director and that seems to be a good fit for him. The story was inspired by something strange he experienced: after his dad’s death, his dad’s partner suggested (inspired by a Maori tradition) leaving his embalmed body in the house for five days. Then she left the kids alone with him. He says he tried to talk to the body, but just kept having horror movie thoughts.
This is weird and sad and definitely too personal for this inconsequential review, but fuck it. My family, not really through any planning or beliefs or anything, ended up with a tradition a little like this. As you may know if you read stuff I wrote at the time, there was a rough period of a few years where I lost my grandpa, my grandma, my dad and my mom. The first three all died in the same assisted living center, and my mom died at a different one in the same chain. And in all cases siblings, spouses, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandchildren and family friends gathered in the room, with the body, for many hours before saying goodbye.
It’s strange, definitely. It’s very upsetting at first. Then you get used to it. Everyone is there to comfort each other, to talk, and pretty soon people are laughing and telling stories and even talking about other things going on. Occasionally a new person shows up and everyone is quiet and brought down seeing this person go through the initial shock of seeing the body. Or someone just starts crying and it sets others off. But most of the time, honestly, it’s kind of nice.
The first time, with my grandpa, had an almost miraculous aspect to it. My grandma had been separated from him, living in the memory ward because of her Alzheimer’s. They let her be there with us, but she didn’t realize she knew this man we were mourning. She just said she heard he was a very nice man. She still liked to talk, but didn’t know her stories kept starting over, and repeating, going in loops. I appreciated that even though I couldn’t truly communicate with her, I still recognized her personality. And it was such a strange blessing that she didn’t have to experience the pain of losing her beloved husband of 68 years, and was actually able to comfort us with her positivity!
My dad’s Alzheimer’s was much worse. He didn’t talk at all. He didn’t seem to recognize anyone. He would walk up and down a hallway all day, and when I visited him it didn’t seem like he could see or hear me. He wouldn’t stop for me, his eyes wouldn’t focus on me. So I still can’t explain what happened that day. Somehow he got away from the area where he lived and came into the room with us. And he walked up to my sister and, I’m afraid, licked her face. One of the nurses tried to get him out of there and didn’t know, until we told her, that we were his family. It really seemed like somehow he knew he belonged with us.
Okay, I admit that I had that oh-shit-tears-are-coming feeling a couple times during COME TO DADDY, but it was really only because it brought up memories like that. I don’t think I would’ve guessed that it was a personal movie if I hadn’t heard about it. Anyway, if I may finally get to a point, I wasn’t really able to talk to a body. Not out loud. So I don’t blame Norval for not doing it.
But COME TO DADDY is pretty good.
APPENDIX: chronological list of some of the TV shows Stephen McHattie has guest starred on
Starsky and Hutch
Hill Street Blues
Spenser: For Hire
Tales from the Darkside
The Twilight Zone
Law & Order
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
Highlander: The Series
The Outer Limits
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Poltergeist, The Legacy
Walker: Texas Ranger
La Femme Nikita
Birds of Prey
Star Trek: Enterprise
That’s what you call a working fuckin actor right there
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.