And you thought you had daddy issues. Weigh them against Elijah Wood’s troubles in debuting director Ant Timpson’s moderately funny and strangely dated gross-out comedy-thriller “Come To Daddy,” and you might just award your own old man a “Parent of the Year” prize. Too bad that Wood’s character Norval shows up at the remote doorstep of Brian (Stephen McHattie) — the guy who had abandoned him and his mother three decades ago — utterly clueless about the senselessness that awaits him and his long-estranged father. The audience is slightly luckier, since Timpson tips off the viewers about the forthcoming crazy ride by kicking his film off with two wildly unrelated quotes about dads: one by William Shakespeare and the other by Beyoncé.
If only Timpson (whose previous credits as a producer include the notoriously weird “The Greasy Strangler”) had earnestly delivered on that tease with some fresh grip. Instead, the blend of tired jokes and body horror here seems entombed in amber, as every lacerated scalp, loudly broken limb, and use of the C-word makes it feel that much less original. If you find yourself amid a dedicated “bring it on” audience up for anything, there is surely some retro fun to be had with this brand of cartoonish and completely unrealistic chamber violence. But while “Come To Daddy” dials up its gruesomeness to maximum noise, even the collectively therapeutic “ewws” and stress-release claps wear thin, as the onscreen gore starts feeling like a bore.
This is both a bummer and a shock, as “Come To Daddy”, written by “The Greasy Strangler” co-writer Toby Harvard (based on an idea by Timpson), sets the madness in motion stylishly with enough intrigue and suspense in its first act. We meet the 30-something Norval as he hysterically drags a suitcase across isolated coastal landscapes in some distant Oregon town, following painstaking instructions on a map, hand-drawn by his father who had apparently mailed him an out-of-the-blue invitation for a visit. Clearly clothes-conscious with a hat that indicates arrogance and sporting a goofy “medieval-chic” haircut (minus the “chic” part), Norval gets established as an amusing, out-of-place image at once.
Soon enough, the Beverly Hills-dwelling, snobby DJ reaches daddy’s idyllic cabin, which looks like a circular UFO from outer space. Except, Brian seems peculiarly startled at the sight of his son. Still, the duo falls into a routine in no time. Often dangerously drunk, Brian intimidates Norval with threatening language and mannerisms, destroys Norval’s precious Lorde-designed phone and refuses to reveal the reason for his surprise letter. A recovering alcoholic, Norval indulges in egotism in return, bragging about his cutting-edge gigs. “I am someone you can’t pigeonhole. Do I produce blazing beats? Yes!” he boasts during a conversation, crowing about his alleged connection to big names like Elton John. The funniest segment of the film is this pissing contest between the pair, during which cinematographer Dan Katz stays close to the subtly aggressive mimics of the two committed and equally superb performers to hilarious effect.
Without spoiling the central twist, suffice it to say that Norval’s quiet escape to the country costs him a lot more than he had bargained for. As the story progresses with mild surprises, a number of new characters shift its shape from a darkly funny thriller to full-on slasher. In that, “Come to Daddy” becomes something in the vein of a cheesy ’80s horror flick by way of Martin McDonagh or an early Quentin Tarantino film, with plenty of blood and guts spilled. While this sounds like a winningly escapist combination, the script falls short of the wit and smarts needed to do the premise justice.
Still, the delightfully scene-stealing Kiwi comedian Madeleine Sami adds a surprising amount of depth to an otherwise petty and overwhelmingly masculine package with a memorable scene — it feels like an unfortunate cheat when she doesn’t return. Moreover, a dauntingly jawed Michael Smiley and a placid Martin Donovan deliver two knowingly over-the-top performances as once-friendly foes. From composer Karl Steven’s mischievously eerie score to Katz’s playful compositions that maximize colors and sharp contrasts, “Come to Daddy” has the look and makings of a high-end production. If only the laughs could also rise to the occasion. While inflating his film’s genre-bending silliness (perhaps in search of something that can’t be pigeonholed like the lead character), Timpson misses out on a dark comedy several shades edgier.