"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Come to Daddy

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

Adam-12
Starsky and Hutch
Kojak
Lou Grant
Hill Street Blues
The Equalizer
Spenser: For Hire
Guiding Light
Crime Story
Tales from the Darkside
Miami Vice
The Twilight Zone
Law & Order
Seinfeld
L.A. Law
Quantum Leap
Northern Exposure
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
Highlander: The Series
M.A.N.T.I.S.
The X-Files
The Outer Limits
JAG
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Poltergeist, The Legacy
Walker: Texas Ranger
La Femme Nikita
Lexx
Monk
Mutant X
Birds of Prey
Star Trek: Enterprise
The 4400

That’s what you call a working fuckin actor right there

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 26th, 2020 at 11:42 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “Come to Daddy”

  1. Stephen McHattie is such a great Canadian character. You know when he was in a tv-show it was shot in Canada. I first really took notice of him in the first 30 minutes of A History of Violence, where he plays a killer together with Greg Bryk, and they appeared in so many films together. They are both in Shoot Em’ Up and XIII: The Conspiracy. I think they have appeared in the same project more than 10 times.

  2. I dig McHattie, whom I know most recognizably from JESSE STONE, and I dig him a lot in those TV movies (though IIRC, he kind of disappeared from them after awhile). They are sort of a dying breed type of film. Not particularly great films, but they are mostly about mood — a steady, principled, melancholy, haunted, dutiful vibe, and I love the energy of Jesse and his relationship to McHattie (and William Sadler, William Devane, and Saul Rubinek and all these fun regulars). Seems like most everyone in that world is committed to the premise that life is hard and nasty and rotten below the surface, full of demons within and without. But Jesse keeps fighting the good fight, and it’s fellow initiated, world-weary travelers like McHattie that give him what he needs to keep on. And I do remember McHattie in HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, which is a great flick.

    I skipped over the review spoilers in this one, so am not tracking it all, but it looks pretty interesting.

  3. My wife and I have developed a code language over the years that includes both movies and actors. For example Ian McShane is Lovejoy, no matter what he’s in. Bill Pullman is Vertical-blinds salesman (after SIBLING RIVALRY). And so forth. And McHattie has been Jaques Pasqinel since CENTENNIAL in the late 70s. Don’t really know why I’m telling you this, but I’ve been in quarantine for 14 days…

  4. Wow, this review was a rollercoaster even before the world’s most weirdly intuitive spambot showed up.

    I appreciate how, in recent years, McHattie has become his own That Guy and not just The Other Lance Henriksen.

  5. That’s an intense story, Vern, and I salute you for sharing. Thank you and take care.

    But we all know that the quote for the DVD box is gonna be:

    “Come to Daddy is a must”, RubiLean_123poolservice

  6. Reading your review of this and also The Trust & Maniac with Elijah Wood makes me realize what a dark eclectic career this hobbit has had – the last thing I saw him in was probably that show Wilfred, which was also about delusion/insanity. I guess he’s never been the same since playing a cannibal in Sin City, though to me he will always be Huck Finn (one of the first movies I ever saw in theatres was his version).

    You’re a strong man to keep writing and striving for positivity through your grief. I’m glad you made it through that dark time in your life. It’s healthy to cry when the feelings come up, and a good movie will often help jog those loose. It might seem strange but I put on “Philadelphia” during the onset of this pandemic because I wanted to watch a sick person treated with compassion and dignity, and though the movie was more dated than I remembered, the ending still had me bawling.

  7. This whole review I was like “huh, the name Steven McHattie sounds kinda familiar, but I don’t think I know this guy, I certainly can’t picture him…” – and then Mr Majestyk called him “The Other Lance Henriksen” and I immediately went “OH, that guy!”

  8. We all process grief differently and if COME TO DADDY can help with that, then so much the better. I just rewatched ENDGAME for the first time since release, and I was kind of blown away by how much the “post-snap” world reminded me of what I’m seeing in daily life right now–people recognizing a communal loss but having no personal plan–and then I was also surprised by how much liked the idea that, dammit, we CAN make a plan!

    But I definitely think I recognize McHattie from that one episode of QUANTUM LEAP where Viggo Mortensen tears his cheek off with a coffee pot.

  9. I’m happy that Elijah is still getting a lot interesting work done, even if it’s outside of mainstream. Playing Frodo in LOTR was exactly a kind of thing that can paint you in a corner forever, because it’s too iconic, too big to fathom.

    But he has done well for himself. Actually I could say the same thing for Daniel Radcliffe. And Robert Pattinson is doing amazing at the moment, even if he also belongs to this small, strange group of actors who got way too much way too early, and kind of had to re-program the whole thing to make a career after the juggernaut they drove on for so many years.

  10. What’s cool about Wood is that he seems to generate a lot of his own work. I can’t get down with everything his production company does (I made it roughly six minutes into THE GREASY STRANGLER, for instance) but he definitely seems like he’s in it for the love. It’s a rare case where somebody making Fuck You money off of a big blockbuster franchise (like Radcliffe) ends up making them better and more daring artists.

  11. Pontypool really cemented McHattie as an actor of merit in my mind.

    But, yeah, before then he was definitely the Lance Henriksen guy.

  12. The Greasy Strangler has got to be the lamest, shittiest movie I’ve seen in a looooong time. Ever seen a picture of the director? He even LOOKS like a guy who would make that fucking movie.

  13. grimgrinningchris

    April 12th, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Love McHattie and he is always doing stellar, if largely unrecognized work… but he’ll always be Elaine Benes’s therapist boyfriend to me…

  14. I’m from Portugal, so the whole “dead body in the living room” thing doesn’t sound unusual to me. It will to future generations, but it used to be pretty common until maybe ten, fifteen years ago.

    I remember someone once telling me that Luke “Mark Hamill” Skywalker didn’t have much of a movie career outside of that one role because his Star Wars money was so good he only made the movies “he wanted to make”. That always seemed like bullshit to me, but I kinda suspect it may be true of Elijah Wood. I mean, he does seem to gravitate towards a certain type of weird.

    I became aware of McHattie with “History of Violence”, altough I always forget his name. The character he plays in this movie kind of reminds me of the one he played in “Pontypool” (where he had a starring role!). I like to think I’m the kind of film watching person who loves these character actors like McHattie, Henriksen, Richard Jenkins and Harry Dean Stanton (and John Carroll Lynch, for that matter), but I’m not actually that interesting.

    Anyway, sounds like a movie I’ve got to see.

  15. Elijah Wood has a horror film production company, and with these things being fairly micro-budgeted, I think he’s probably got a decent little revenue stream. His company produced MANDY and COLOR OUT OF SPACE, among others. I think they’re definitely passion projects of his, but I also think he’s got an ownership stake.

    I found this one to be kind of underwhelming, and I didn’t really like Wood for the role, but I did enjoy McHattie and the main villain’s final resolution was inspired. It was also good to see guy-from-INSOMNIA whom I haven’t seen in maybe 15 years in anything that registered. I did like Wood a lot in the MANIAC remake. I hate to be superficial, but I found myself wanting to shave that little moustache off his face in this one, and I was actually a bit sympathetic to McHattie’s seemingly unprovoked animus toward Wood. He just looks like he needs a couple nouggies (sp?).

    Speaking of horror, I did enjoy VFW quite a bit. BLISS was all right, too. Joe Begos will be one to keep watching for if he can recover from whatever association he has with this Cinestate controversy. Definitely, he has vision and moxie as a filmmaker, though.

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