Come to Daddy is the kind of movie better experienced than described. This isn’t because it’s a twisty movie, though it certainly is that, and it isn’t because it’s a masterpiece of visual splendor, though there are certainly plenty of shots that convey the beauty of its remote setting. Come to Daddy is best experienced blind as possible because it has such a strange detachment from reality while simultaneously speaking to real and deep emotions. It’s a film that wants you to think and wants you to laugh while you do it, but in an off-kilter, so-strange-it’s-alien sort of way.
Norval (Elijah Wood, rocking a rad little mustache) travels to a remote cabin at the behest of a letter sent by his father who abandoned him when he was five years old. When he arrives, Brian (Stephen McHattie) seems confused and more than a little drunk, but he welcomes Norval in, seemingly happy to reunite with his son. But the hours go by, it becomes increasingly obvious that Brian doesn’t want Norval there, begging the question of why he even sent the letter in the first place. As tensions rise, so does the ominous threat of violence, culminating in a first act that plummets the film over the edge into full-on absurdity.
Though the mystery of Brian’s motivations is compelling, Come to Daddy is much more committed to being a comedy than a thriller. Director Ant Timpson demonstrates a very Adult Swim kind of comic sensibility, encouraging oddly timed line reads and bizarre choices from his actors, which is only helped by the non-sequiturs and tangents baked into Toby Harvard’s script. This is a film that encourages laughter through a mixture of discomfort, surprise, and inhuman behavior, so be prepared to let the strangeness wash over you, even as the film’s story remains relatively grounded in its own offbeat version of reality. Wood plays an excellent straight man to McHattie’s escalating confrontations, and as more characters worm their way into the narrative, it becomes clear that not only is Norval’s situation absurd, but the world he lives in operates at the same, bizarre tempo.
But underneath that absurdity is a film with a sense of heart and gravity with concern for how the loss of one’s father at a young age can affect a young man’s journey into adulthood. Norval, a man in his thirties, never knew his father in any tangible way until meeting him in this remote bottled location, and the film takes quiet, almost discordant moments to explore what that did to him. Brian’s carelessness left emotional scars on Norval that would later manifest as literal ones, but the lengths to which Norval will go to try to impress or express loyalty for a man to whom he holds a tenuous biological relationship are sad as they are relatable. You’ll spend most of your time laughing at just how silly and bonkers things get, particularly by the time a gonzo third act rolls around that almost feels like it belongs in a different movie, but there’s a genuine and real emotional core that glues the surreal machinations together.
Come to Daddy is a blast, a fever dream to enjoy for its twisty chicanery, but it’s also a smart and thoughtful film about the familial ties that bind us, even if those ties are really just our longing for the absence of a relationship. Then again, maybe all you’ll get out of it is a few very quotable moments to share with friends as the credits roll. But it might also get you to think about the father figures in your life, which is much more than this silly little adventure ever needed to achieve.