Elijah Wood has been doing quite well for himself since the heyday of Lord of the Rings. In the wake of child stardom and fantasy franchise fame, he’s been one of the more interesting actors when taking on new projects. While some crash and burn, or flicker and fade from the face of the earth after yielding the fruits of their cinematic labour, Elijah Wood has been steadily and quite fascinatingly building up his brand as something of a low-key indie darling. With his horror-focused production company SpectreVision producing oddball genre gems like The Greasy Strangler and Mandy, while acting in pleasantly varying roles such as with the television shows Wilfred and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, or the highly underrated film I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Elijah Wood has been doing nothing if not keeping things interesting.
So, it may come as no surprise that Wood’s taken on the lead in New Zealand native Ant Timpson’s insanely entertaining comedy-horror-thriller-drama-smorgasbord, Come to Daddy – in which Wood plays a music mogul with daddy issues, a douchebag haircut, and an Asian lettering neck tattoo, who attempts to reconnect with his estranged father. Timpson takes a break from the producer’s label (he’s behind retro-dystopia film Turbo Kid, New Zealand horror-comedy Housebound, and the aforementioned The Greasy Strangler) and gets himself into the director’s chair. He helms a film that is as stomach-churning and scream-inducing as it is deeply melancholic and endlessly hilarious, adeptly interweaving multiple genres into an end product that is both moving and utterly atrocious in the best way.
Norval (Elijah Wood) has been living at home with his mother following a particularly nasty alcohol-related incident when he receives a strange correspondence in the mail. His father (a deliciously sinister Stephen McHattie) is suddenly requesting a reunion with his long-lost son at his cabin in the seaside wilderness. So, Norval, hopeful, intrigued, and terrified all at once, hops on a bus and treks out to his father’s remote domicile to reconnect with the man who left him when he was only five years old. But there’s something immediately amiss when Norval arrives at his father’s “1960’s UFO by the ocean.” The man’s cold gaze and practically emaciated form evoke a sense of unease, but he brings Norval in for a warm embrace nonetheless. Still, there’s something not quite right.
For the next couple days, Norval attempts to build an ever-shaky relationship with his father, who increasingly seems more reluctant to do so. Norval is slightly arrogant but always earnest – touting his status as an important figure connected with “big names” in the music business (he has one of only twenty gold-plated iPhones from Lorde, for Christ’s sake), but only ever in a sincere attempt to impress his father. But as this man he believes to be his father seems at his wit’s end with Norval’s presence in his home, answering Norval’s questions about why he really sent the letter with only silence, their time together culminates into a vicious, dangerous argument that sends Norval down a path much farther than the one he started from when he got off his bus.
What begins as a slow-moving, character-driven drama takes so many left turns on its journey that it’s hard to remember it even started out as such. That’s not to say the film is a mess, or that it doesn’t know what it’s doing – on the contrary, Timpson has absolute command of his genre cocktail. The film is having too much fun with itself, slipping from comedy, to horror, to gonzo gore-fest at ease, for one to consider where drama ended and revenge-thriller began; like an elegant, blood-spattered snake eating its own tail. And the comedy is often so audaciously hilarious in placement, subject matter, and line delivery that the flitting to and from genres makes every joke feel like a wonderful surprise. There’s a particularly unforgettable one in which Norval expounds upon the amount of nutrients in a cup of semen that should grant Elijah Wood every Academy Award nomination he will not receive.
Despite it being his first feature, there is an undoubted amount of confidence in Timpson’s film-making. Perhaps due to his personal connection to the events of the story (as hard as that may be to believe once you see the film), or from his past work as a film-maker, but there is never a dull moment in the camerawork or storytelling; even when the story steps back and breathes, and Norval is left alone to fight with himself on whether it’s worth it to stick around for a man who only seems to hate him. The film is bathed in a haze of melancholic greys or spurted gleefully with the red of human blood. It is a film that makes you look when you’d rather not, and opens its heart up when you don’t think that could be possible.
And even amidst the unfathomable gore, the campy snarls uttered by Michael Smiley’s horrifying henchman, and Norval’s ridiculous fucking haircut, the film is anchored by the story of sad, lonely young man who never got to know his father. Despite his success, there is something that will always be lost from Norval. He tries to fill this absence with romantic affection (his sights set on a coroner played by Breaker-Upperers darling Madeleine Sami), the adoration he receives within his career and the connections he’s made with A-listers, but there is a sense of familial longing that has continued to persist and pulsate like an infected wound that will never heal.
It’s another thing that stands out when it comes to Elijah Wood’s wide-ranging character choices. There is always something deeply sad about these men, despite their inane eccentricities, murderous tendencies, or imaginary friends dressed in dog suits. Many of them are profoundly fragmented, searching desperately to put their own pieces together to build something that resembles a real human being. Ant Timpson takes Wood’s proclivity for these characters and finds Norval, in a film that will leave you with tears in the corners of your eyes after watching Elijah Wood yank a metal rod out from being gouged in his face.
Breaking bones, gushing blood, cum jokes, and processing grief. The power of cinema is alive and well in Come to Daddy.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs