Come to Daddy begins with quotes from Shakespeare and Beyoncé in the same frame, and it only gets loopier from there. But no matter its oddball turns, director Ant Timpson’s wild, unpredictable debut manages to deliver a gory hilarious father-son reunion saga with a surprising degree of confidence in the silly-strange natural of the material — a sentimental story about death and rediscovery that pops into violent mayhem even as it maintains an earnest connection to the conundrum at hand. Timpson certainly has a handle on his lurid material, but Elijah Wood helps give it heart. As a baffled outcast named Norval, Wood delivers one his most endearing characters in recent memory: a wide-eyed, mustachioed hipster who obscures his insecurities with high fashion and fancy lies. When Norval shows up at his estranged father’s remote seaside Oregon mansion as the movie begins, he wanders through a vast, empty green landscape as the wind sweeps through, and his top hat careens off-screen. He freezes into a silhouette of confusion, and it’s the first indication of strange circumstances beyond his control.
Timpson’s ominous visual flair sets the stage for an discerning thriller, and the first act of Come to Daddy unfolds as a dark comic thriller. When Norval arrives at the mansion, he introduces himself to the stern man (Stephen McHattie) with unknowing, cruel eyes who opens the door as his long-lost son. The older man looks puzzled, curious, and not exactly thrilled by Norval’s arrival, even though Norval says he received a letter from his old man asking him to visit. Not having seen his dad since his toddler years, Norval — whose mother raised him under affluent circumstances in Beverly Hills — seems to eager to develop an adult relationship. But McHattie’s bawdy, inebriated character quickly makes it clear that what’s meant to be a tearful reunion is not in the cards: as the pair settle into the living room, he intimidates Norval by poking holes in his claims that he’s become a successful deejay back home, and later threatens violence against the him in a drunken rage. Norval, whose troubled family history has led to his own history of substance abuse, can barely process this reality check before circumstances take an even more dire turn, and he’s suddenly left alone in the sprawling abode to contemplate his emotional turmoil against the dramatic ocean backdrop.
But that doesn’t last for long. The best movie twists aren’t always just the unexpected; they also change the direction and truth of the narrative. And, while delving much more into it would ruin the overall ride, Timpson manages to pad out the running time with a menacing slow-build. After he hears strange sounds at night, Norval begins to suspect he’s being haunting by his personal demons, but the reality is at once more shocking and ludicrous. As it shifts gears into a fast-paced tale of dumb criminals and ruthless scheming, Come to Daddy loses some of the awe-inspiring intrigue of its first half. But when Norval suddenly faces a range of cartoonish threats, from knives to fecal-encrusted pens, the movie settles into a different kind of escapism.
With shades of early Peter Jackson, the mayhem builds to a relentless pileup of chaotic circumstances, most of which unfold within the claustrophobic confines of a single interior set. It’s there that worthless criminals played by Michael Smiley and the great Martin Donovan become central to Norval’s survival, as he contends with the risking stakes of a situation he never signed up for. But in a strange way, the gruesome events become an ideal metaphor for the often messy process of confronting family bods that burst apart long ago. Once the full scope of that drama has been revealed, sure, there’s a few contrivances but Come to Daddy also struggles to maintain its zany energy through its final act, and a concluding hotel room showdown unfolds like a quirky, half-hearted sketch comedy in the shadow of the more alluring weirdness leading up to it. Even so, it’s punctuated by a violent act so cartoonish and bizarre it brings the story back to its strengths. Meanwhile, Wood’s frozen look of astonishment at every new twist epitomizes the outrageous, winding pathway of the movie’s plot.
Sketched out with broad genre strokes and big, unruly emotions, Come to Daddy comes together as Norval stumbles into a climactic encounter and arrives at the attempted reconciliation the character has pursued from the start, and while it doesn’t happen the way he’d envisioned it, the movie finds a way to a bizarre form of closure that illustrates Timpson’s confidence in this strange genre brew. By the end, it all suddenly clicks: the finale conjures a series of poignant images to convey the idea that cruel people still have the potential for empathy, and family bonds can transcend even the bloodiest of circumstances. Zigging and zagging its genre and tone, Come to Daddy takes its central sentimental story and explodes it into violent mayhem; balancing its absurdities and core emotion for an intriguing romp.