Tribeca 2019: COME TO DADDY Review: One F!$ked Up Family Reunion

Starring Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Ona Grauer

Written by Toby Harvard

Directed by Ant Timpson

Warning: this review may contain spoilers. Please read at your own risk.

From Ant Timpson (producer of Turbo Kid, Deathgasm, Housebound, etc.) and Toby Harvard (co-writer of The Greasy Strangler) comes a violently bizarre family reunion splattered blood-red. Come To Daddy is somehow about Elton John and septic shock and flaming crossbow arrows in a very “sleazy 70s noir” bout of hazy underbelly confusion. To remark “What the f*#k” would only scratch the crusty, backstabby surface of Timpson’s mean n’ nasty directorial debut. As batshit unpredictable as it is boundlessly deranged by the New Zealander’s exploitation standards, which is saying a lot given the how Deathgasm has an entire possessed suburb vomit rivers of blood into cul-de-sac streets.

Elijah Wood stars as dubstep-fashion-chic Norval, who returns to Port Hope after his father sends a letter begging for his presence. It’s been almost 30 years since Norval’s papa abandoned caretaker duties, but the newly sober son accepts what appears to be an olive branch. Norval knocks on his father’s coastal home front door and is welcomed in by drunk and haggard absentee parent Brian (played by Stephen McHattie). They talk, go swimming, share dinner, but Norval begins to grow suspicious by his dad’s devious smirks. Why has Norval been beckoned back to Port Hope after all these years? Upon finding out, he’ll wish the letter never arrived.

It’s impossible to picture Norval played any anyone other than Elijah Wood. Glimpse the faded monk’s haircut, stylish sweats with a droopy crotch hang, thinned, powerless mustache – Norval’s appearance begs for attention. A self-anointed purveyor of “blazing beats” (er, DJ) who values materialistic status above all else, given his gold-plated, limited edition, Lorde-designed cell phone. Norval is a meek, nonconfrontational wimp who’s replaced inner emptiness with obscure characterization – until everything goes to utter shit when forced into life-or-death brawls. Wood accentuates Norval’s hipster holiness in comparison to McHattie’s scruffy seaman, and doubles-down on Norval’s transformation into a reluctant amateur killer. We’re never supposed to believe he can get away with literal murder, and to Wood’s wildly performative credit, we rarely do.

Norval’s journey is one of name dropping, desperate attempts to elicit daddy-issue closure, and genital brutality. Circular rooms resemble “UFOs from the 1960s.” Hunchback assassins charge forward with toilet paper stuck between their legs. Motel swingers meet under the guise of geologists, compassionate coroners offer healing words, and cops use the term “Raisin Eyes” or burp on command in hopes of brightening a griever’s day. Timpson takes a page from Jim Hosking’s quirk-a-minute style, but thankfully never pushes into The Greasy Strangler overdrive. None of this should sound like it makes sense, which is what defines Come To Daddy. You strap in, hold tight, and let Norval take the wheel.

Norval’s trouble begins when he must protect pops from crooked demons of past mistakes. Thailand kidnapping accomplices who demand what they’re owed. Michael Smiley plays Jethro, the hippie-haired ringleader who’s into strangulation and pronounces “excrement” as “exctrement.” Simon Chin as the aforementioned Dandy, whose potty time is cut short by Norval’s happenstance urination needs. Martin Donovan appears during, well, he’s a reluctant addition to the cast. What starts as a dysfunctional homecoming turns into a full-on breakout escape, but Harvard’s script doesn’t jump into cat-and-mouse thrills until Come To Daddy’s midway point. Possibly waiting a tad too long given how the film’s back nine overshadows what precedes, but this elongated build may also be what sells a false narrative, or even better, allows Timpson’s twistedness always to promote a question of what’s to come.

Brutality spikes as soon as Norval’s forced into becoming a bodyguard of sorts, foreshadowed by stories of exposed brain squishiness and enacted swiftly like a guillotine drop. Bodies are stabbed with everything from fecal-covered pens to knife blades to rented room decor, through the cheek or gut. Plastic wrap masks are filled with blood as asphyxiation becomes drowning in one’s juices. Norval gets his ass handed to him multiple times, but Timpson’s effects team ensures deserving victims are physically punished on despicable levels that enhance gory retribution. None of this should surprise given Timpson’s producing background, but yes, to confirm, his directorial style is just as revolting (yay!).

Where Timpson suffers, along with Harvard’s screenplay, is in convolution that doesn’t always withstand shock merits – but illogical additives are also what heightens the fun of Come To Daddy? Such a conundrum. For instance, why does Jethro decide mid-crime to phone prostitute Precious (Ona Grauer) for a quickie choke? I’m not sure, but it leads to Michael Smiley saying lines like “I’m out of here like Vladimir?” Without nonsense deviations, we’d never reach some of the film’s highest peaks. Smiley’s rambling post-accident comparison of Norval’s mother to a 1980s British politician, or McHattie’s jump-shot steak toss into a frying pan, or a brilliant shot where Norval lays in bed next to an unzipped body bag – corpse showing. Nothing is as advertised, everything suspect, and although head-scratches will be aplenty, we’d be robbed of Smiley’s pervy scene-stealing gangbanger or likened indignity.

Come To Daddy is a father-son beatdown in the key of midnight comedy. Part survivalist buddy trip, part home invasion defensiveness, all aggressively abstract and pieced together like a dreadful fever you can’t quite shake. Ant Timpson mixes this hair-triggered generational cocktail that’s garnished with sharp weapons and insecure witticisms and a quest for answers that only leads to more pain – always ever-endearing thanks to Elijah Woods’ layered genre acceptance. Turn up for Stephen McHattie’s awkwardly long gulps of wine, stay for Wood’s hilariously macabre reclamation of self, and leave praising one of the year’s most out-there sequences of catastrophic events kissed by pulp-provoceatur madness. There’s plenty to ponder, but it’s worth more just enjoying the carnage left in Norval’s wake.

  • Come To Daddy


Come To Daddy is a mercilessly hilarious, bloody punch of revenge, personal destruction, and father-son reconciliation that’s primed to send midnight viewers into fits of psychotic enjoyment.

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