In the opening scenes of Ant Timpson’s Come to Daddy, former Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood is once again on a quest.
When we first see him, he’s travelling on foot along a desolate shore, his baggy garments resembling a cloak, on the way to meet his estranged father who’s reached out inexplicably after a decades-long absence. The scene has a certain dreamlike quality, which seems comparatively normal as the film descends wholeheartedly into insanity.
Norm is an insufferable hipster who lives with his mother despite his claim to have a prominent career in the music industry (what he does do isn’t quite clear, although he describes Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper as “close allies.” Then again, he also claims to be besties with Elton John is until his former limo driver father calls his bluff.)
His dad, introduced as David, is a hard-drinking deadbeat living alone in a beach house that reminds Norm of “a UFO from the 1960s.” He initially doesn’t recognize his own son, but soon embraces him warmly before just as quickly becoming withdrawn and surly. Norm isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but even he starts to wonder why the man bothered to summon him in the first place.
The mismatched duo soon start to argue – or rather, Norm protests meekly while his father drunkenly berates him, responding to the man’s creative vulgarity and sexist slurs with a wimpy, “Don’t call me that.” (The whole scene almost feels like a millennial twist on The Lighthouse’s seaside screaming matches).
It’s at this point that the plot takes a sharp left turn, and Norm’s ominous family reunion shifts into an unhinged crime caper.
The violence is gleefully disgusting, putting non-confrontational Norm up against a pair of vicious, scatologically-inclined gangsters. The fight scenes are so over-the-top, they make John Wick look plausible (at one point, a man is beaten to death with a tube of cling wrap).
Some of the later humour is hit or miss (a climactic sequence involving a cheap motel, a swingers’ convention, and a sex-crazed receptionist didn’t do it for me), but the first half of the film has some great visual gags. In one scene, Norm freezes in terror midway through putting on a turtleneck, cocking his head towards a mysterious sound with the fabric of the sweater stretched over his face like a morph suit. In another, an imprisoned man goes all Gerald’s Game to free himself from a handcuff, only to realize he wasn’t that securely chained to begin with.
The movie also has a lot of fun with its hero’s complete lack of agency; Norm has so little control over the final outcome that even his ineptness doesn’t make much of an impact.
This is a film where you don’t really like anyone. Wood’s pretentious wannabe musician is hard to sympathize with, even as his no-fault-of-his-own plight gets increasingly dire, and his father figures are as far from stand-up guys as you can get. All the better to let the audience enjoy the carnage without any of the accompanying anxiety of caring how it all turns out. And at just over ninety minutes in length, it’s briskly paced enough that you don’t get tired of it.
All in all, it’s a weird good time that’ll keep you guessing.
Title: Come to Daddy
Director: Ant Timpson
Screenwriter: Toby Harvard