Is it the mark of a good horror-thriller that its twists and surprises are such that you can only really talk about that first twenty minutes without spoiling what lies in wait for the unsuspecting viewer? I think so. Consequently, I can’t tell you much more than the set up which has Elijah Wood (in outrageously bad hair that looks like some kind of ‘cool, hipster’ bowl cut) playing Norval Greenwood, a thirtysomething ‘celebrity’ DJ who gets off a bus in the middle of nowhere and follows a hand drawn map into the woods for what seems like an unreasonable amount of time, until he eventually hits the coastline and his destination; a quite amazing wooden beach house impossibly perched on a cliff above some dangerous looking rocks and a raging sea. Norval has come here at the behest of his estranged father who has written to his son thirty years after walking out on the family and requesting him to visit (presumably with map enclosed).
When Gordon (Stephen McHattie) answers Norval’s apprehensive knock at the front door, the reunion is about as far from affectionate as you can get. In fact, Gordon (a very serious drinker) seems to hold Norval (a recovering alcoholic) in contempt and, rather than explain the purpose of the letter inviting him to come, delights in baiting him at every opportunity. When Norval tries to impress his dad by showing him a limited edition, gold iPhone (only twenty in the world) Gordon lets it slip into the sea (now there’s only nineteen). When Norval tells him that it was Elton John who discovered him and set him on the path to DJ fame and fortune, Gordon pulls the rug out by revealing that he used to be a chauffer and that Elton was a regular client. In fact, why don’t they call up old Elton and see how he’s doing? Gordon has him on speed dial. With his bluff called, Norval admits that he’s not been entirely honest about himself. Turns out he’s not the only one deceiving.
The story runs quite happily like this, along with some strange noises in the night, Gordon’s unexplained late-night conversations on the phone and some other general weirdness. But just as it seems like this might be all its going to be about – an awkward, plodding, rekindled relationship with an undercurrent of darkness and a few secrets being kept on both sides – we hit the twenty-minute mark and I can’t say anything further...
..other than to acknowledge that first time New Zealand director Ant Timpson and second time feature screenwriter, Toby Harvard have taken Timson’s story idea and gone to town with it. Often when a film is billed with a triple genre (comedy-horror-thriller) you’re lucky if you end up satisfied with two out three but Timson and Harvard have, for the most part, navigated the tricky landscape between what’s funny, what’s scary and what makes you sit on the edge of your seat. It’s not one-hundred-percent successful. I’ve already noted that the protracted set up wears a bit thin and there’s a lovely relationship between Norval and Gladys (Madeleine Sami), an ambulance driver who finds her way into the story, but the spark and curiosity of their story gets abandoned in order to pursue the main game of the big twist. It’s a shame, especially when it’s one of only two female roles in an otherwise male-heavy cast. Similarly, there’s a hint of something untoward that involves Norval’s mother (an unseen character on the end of the phone) but whilst it seems that there will be a mystery to unfold in that little side-story, it never eventuates.
The comedy here is dark and well tempered by some good suspenseful scenes. The horror is suitably gory with some nice visual effects work. The ending, perhaps, gets a bit loose and convenient but the road that takes us there is full of some cleverly executed bumps and hairpin turns.
Wood is great as Norval and McHattie plays Gordon so tightly that you just know he’s going to explode at some point. The rest of the cast are strong and whilst I can’t reveal what characters Martin Donovan and Michael Smiley play, they do round out the assembly of characters to provide a well-balanced dynamic. Come To daddy is a great example of ingenuity, clever writing, well judged performances and sure direction that allows a low-budget movie to rise above the risk of becoming a schlocky mish-mash of ideas in order to create something far more entertaining than it might otherwise have been. Just down turn off before the twenty-minute mark.