In the new thriller Come to Daddy from director Ant Timpson, Elijah Wood stars as "Norval," a spoiled, 30-something musician from L.A. who meets his estranged father (played by Stephen McHattie) at his Pacific Northwestern beach home. Soon after the father dies, leaving Norval stuck with his body due to a packed morgue. Alone in an empty house with his father's corpse, Norval begins to hear strange noises coming from beneath the home.
Combining horror movie tropes with black comedy, Come to Daddy, now playing in theaters, reveals the sad truths about the things we say, and never say, to those who matter to us while we're alive. That's a heavy idea for any movie to explore. It's especially compelling when that movie's protagonist has a ridiculous bowl haircut, a bold mustache, and clothes that scream rejected member of Vampire Weekend.
Indeed, Norval is a far cry from Elijah Wood's noble Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
"I think he reveals himself the most in the movie during the scene when he’s trying to impress his dad," Wood tells Inverse. "Trying to reveal the people that he knows and he’s very good 'friends' with. It’s a really good indication of who he is. It’s a moment of him trying to impress his father with his inflated sense of self."
While not really a movie about the never-ending conflict between baby boomers and millennials, Come to Daddy, which opens Friday, does use Norval to spoof a specific archetype of artsy, white millennials you'll find in any coastal city. Wood notes that his character "deteriorates" the moment the movie begins as Norval steps off a bus in an isolated town thousands of miles away from SoCal.
"You have this moment of him getting off the bus and from there, it starts this deterioration process because he's so out of his element," Wood says. "A lot of that 'millennial person' was defined from an artifice. From the clothing to the hair and his mustache, we judge him based on those things. I didn't have to do a lot else beyond that."
Trying to get to know a father he's never met is also an effective challenge for Norval.
"He's trying to hold onto things that he's familiar with, and doing that against a father that's not giving him anything," Wood says. "That breaks his confidence and creates this strange, awkward dynamic filled with vulnerability."
Come to Daddy is the debut feature of Ant Timpson, the New Zealand producer of 2012's ABC's of Death, 2016's The Greasy Strangler, and founder of the 48Hours film challenge. Timpson tells Inverse he made the movie as a tribute to his late father, based on some of the amusing circumstances he found himself in while deep in the grieving process. That included living with his father's corpse.
It wasn't anything weird. His dad's partner simply suggested the body stay with the family after embalmment to help aid the grieving process. As people from the senior Timpson's life came to pay respects and share old stories, the filmmaker saw something really funny in learning new things about his father while being so close to his body.
"When I went through him dying and living with his corpse, amongst all the grieving there were moments I knew he would find this funny," Timpson says. "I used to make my dad laugh, usually through inappropriate humor through awkward situations. Saying the wrong things at family dinners and stuff. He loved the dark side of life. It was that deep, black gallows humor we loved surrounding me at the time. I came to this realization that I need to shit or get off the pot and make a movie he would dig."
One such moment of dark humor happens in the end. No spoilers here, but let's just say that Elijah Wood has one of the most brutal "kills" in the movie, one that's gruesome yet hilariously understated.
"We wanted it to be otherworldly," says Timpson. "The physicality of the damage done and Norval's reaction to it, I wanted to see that, in terms of viscera, violence that is oddball and we haven't seen before. I kept talking to the make-up guy. We wanted it to be real clean and not too Halloween. Keep it kind of cool. It felt icky, but 'Oooh' instead of 'I'm out.' It's such a quiet, peaceful moment."
"It's so surreal," says Wood of Norval's final kill.
Adds Timpson, "I equate it to sympathy. He's pulling out a thorn for the lion. There's a lot of animal symbolism in this film. It's beautiful even though it's grotesque. You want to laugh."
Come to Daddy is loaded with outrageous and even dangerous situations that sometimes lead to the biggest laughs, a signature of Timpson's style as seen in ABCs of Death. But Come to Daddy also bears some harsh truths about our short time on Earth.
"Relationships are about our identity," Wood says. "Who we are as individuals is based on who that person is, what that person has imbued us with or not."
"You can never get all the answers you want," Timpson says. "No matter how hard you try, even when you get it all out, dead is dead. You can talk as much as you want to the person above and think you're getting it off your chest. But you'll never get answers. Maybe you don't need to know. You don't need to resolve everything to live a full life."
Come to Daddy is now playing in theaters.