Dad on Arrival
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I streamed Come to Daddy. Though it bills itself as a horror movie, it was fairly clear from the title and description that this wasn’t the case – at least, not entirely. It defies easy categorization, always a welcome quality; unfortunately, in this case, it also turns out to be the movie’s fatal flaw.
Elijah Wood plays Norval, a pretentious music producer who travels to the rural coast of Oregon to visit his estranged father Gordon (Stephen McHattie), who had sent Norval a letter expressing his desire to reconnect. Norval’s dad, absent for most of his childhood, greets him with open arms, but there’s a hostile undercurrent beneath his paternal geniality. A grizzled man’s man, Gordon bristles at his son’s teetotaling and lack of machismo, while Norval gets fed up with his dad’s mean-spirited jokes. Eventually, the tension bubbles over into a shouting match about why Gordon left Norval and his mother. The argument proves to be too much for Gordon, who suffers a heart attack and dies. With his mother unable to arrive for a few days, Norval finds himself stranded in his father’s house – along with his father’s embalmed body, thanks to a shortage of space at the morgue. That’s when the bumps in the night start, along with what sound a lot like human screams.
To say anything more would spoil the movie, but suffice it to say that the story veers off in some rather unexpected directions. These narrative turns are both the greatest strength and biggest weakness of Come to Daddy; they keep things fresh and unpredictable, but by the end of the movie the once-intriguing setup has gone so far off the rails that it’s impossible to retain any emotional investment. Several, if not most, of Come to Daddy’s left-field developments feel arbitrary and half-baked; presumably included to pad the movie’s running time rather than paying off its premise. One gets the distinct feeling that it would have fared far better as an hourlong episode of a horror anthology series; there’s simply not enough material here to fill a feature, and this is never more apparent than in the busy, meandering third act.
Come to Daddy is at its best during its mysterious opening scenes, creating a tense little chamber piece between two very different characters. Elijah Wood is solid in the lead role, giving his millennial man-child a palpable, deep-seated insecurity. And Stephen McHattie makes the most of his relatively small role, selling Gordon’s unpredictable mood swings as he fills the roles of both loving father and cruel alpha-male. His character’s death marks the moment the story begins its descent into insanity, upping the ante by piling on new characters and revelations.
Come to Daddy, especially in its first half, has an appealing genre-hopping quality; shifting gears from horror to comedy to drama over the course of its narrative. The most interesting of these genre samplings is the straight-faced father-son tale, which is surprisingly effective considering how silly the movie can get in its other modes. But any emotional heft that Come to Daddy might have had is swallowed up by its manic kitchen-sink approach, which pulls out plenty of gonzo, gory stops as it progresses but ultimately rings hollow.