[Review] ‘COME TO DADDY’ has Elijah Wood dripping in gleeful cruelty

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James Clay// Film Critic

Rated R, 93 minutes
Director: Ant Timpson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Michael Smiley and Martin Donovan

Trailers are designed to telegraph what the feature will hold. The trailer for New Zealand native filmmaker Ant Timpson’s COME TO DADDY surely will throw a few swerves, so its best to go in with blinders.

With a salacious – and quite possibly perverse – title, COME TO DADDY stars Elijah Wood, who is working with some of the emotionally vulnerable material that doesn’t skimp on the violence or the heart of a mysterious father-son story. Wood and Timpson have developed a working relationship in the past, producing the wonky film THE GREASY STRANGLER under Wood’s SpectreVision banner. Meanwhile, Timpson was busy unleashing excellent thrills like DEATHGASM and HOUSEBOUND unto the world.

New Zealand filmmakers have quite the knack for creating stories that explore the freakier parts of humanity while only being partially acid-dipped experiences. COME TO DADDY explores a form of our reality with a sharpened sense of humor and vulnerability from its star. It allows the twist and turns along to way to puncture the senses without fully diving into the deep end.

Norval Greenwood (great name, and even better bowl-cut/mustache combo) is an affluent 35-year old whose alcohol dependency issues have landed him back in his mother’s Beverly Hills home. He fashions himself as a mercurial artist who rubs elbows with the likes of Elton John, or “Reg” as he likes to call the legendary pop star.

After receiving a letter from his father Brian (Stephen McHattie), he travels alone to the apropos seaside town Port Hope where his old man lives in a villa that’s a cross between a dusty squat and a Jimmy Buffett concert. Rude, pathetic, menacing and leathery, Norval’s father is passively hateful to his estranged son. From there, their dynamic shifts creating uncertainty that Timpson can capitalize on, even if characters are underdeveloped.

The threat of violence pulses throughout the first act, becoming a slow burn that isn’t ready to reveal its true colors. (Hint: Red and brown come into play at a certain point.) While the plot takes its time to unfurl, there are crisp visuals by Daniel Katz that highlight the conflict, idyllic saltiness of the sea, and the palpable tension between Norval and Brian.

Something has to be said of a film that chiefly focuses on genre thrills to create a full-on visual language with its audience. Side plots – including Norval’s flirtation with a public servant and his conflated sense of self – barely scratch the surface to land any worthwhile commentary on his dealings with his sense of self in light of his absent father. There are threads and elements that you can’t help but think they could have been fleshed out more. But Timpson utilizes his 93-minute runtime with a well-paced film that’s ultimately satisfying.

Wood feels right at home playing a cliche status who’s chasing Los Angelino. His beyond saturated hipster attire says, “Please, put me on the guest list,” while on the inside he’s saying, “Daddy, please, love me.” There’s a fragility to his performance that works as an absurdist theory on socialites, and on a personal level. As promised, when the violence comes into effect, the twists start flying by at breakneck speed.

COME TO DADDY serves up a battle royale that could act as a totally whacked out therapy session for some of the more unflinching viewers. Timpson’s directorial debut works out as perfect midnight comedy with a few noir elements and gonzo action with a snarky sense of humor laden throughout. Mean spirited and revealing, Timpson’s film takes some strange diversions that aren’t really interested in logic – just searching for a graphic punchline. The carnage is certainly welcomed; it just needs to be explored further. That’s the trade-off: cheap thrills in exchange for a tightly wound script. COME TO DADDY is a welcomed alternative to studio films that lack the vibrancy shown in Timpson’s debut. It’s daring, offensive, and in search of empathy in the cruelest of scenarios.

Grade: B

COME TO DADDY opens Friday in select theaters and will be available on digital platforms. In Dallas-Fort Worth, the film opens at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson.