Come to Daddy (2019) is that most difficult of beasts to review: a film that has so much to recommend, including many secrets, successful twists, and brilliant performances, but giving away too much would spoil the movie. Loaded with uncomfortable family drama, gruesome set pieces, black humor, and some touching poignancy, suffice it to say that it’s a genre-bender that is one of the finest cinematic efforts on this year’s festival circuit.

Elijah Wood portrays Norval, who is traveling to a remote beach house to meet his father, who abandoned him 30 years earlier. Obviously nervous about the reunion, Norval finds that he indeed has plenty to worry once he meets his verbally abusive, highly aggressive, judgmental father (Stephen McHattie). The elder man enjoys taunting his recovering substance abuser son with his own predilection for alcohol, and in an excitingly tense scene, plays a game of mental chess regarding how well Norval actually knows a certain music celebrity he claims to be like a father to him.

Wood and McHattie are amazing in their portrayals, putting on a veritable acting clinic. Wood plays Norval with a deer-in-the-headlights gaze and a touching fragility, nailing his character’s neuroses and insecurity. McHattie’s character senses vulnerability and fear in Norval, and the seasoned actor (whose many genre film efforts include Pontypool (2008) and a terrific double role in this year’s Dreamland) and gives a bravado performance as a screen villain who viewers will not easily forget. Their time on screen together delivers some of the most uneasy confrontations viewers are likely to see on big screens this year.

And that is merely the first part of Come to Daddy. After that, the film takes some jaw-dropping, mind-blowing paths that cement its spot as one of the most engaging, unique, and tense motion pictures of the year. It doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, playing freely with horror, dark comedy, thriller, and other elements.

It is during the second and third acts that Norval must challenge himself to do things he never thought he could be capable of, if he wants to survive what he originally thought might be a pleasant reunion in a lovely seaside area. Blood spills in wince-inducing ways, and the film isn’t afraid of portraying graphic brutality.

Ant Timpson helms the project masterfully, never missing a step or a beat as he brings Toby Havard’s (cowriter of The Greasy Strangler [2016] with Jim Hosking) clever screenplay to sadistic cinematic life. The visuals are gorgeous, with Daniel Katz’s cinematography vividly capturing the film’s extremes of lush landscapes and unsettling gore, and everything in between.

Michael Smiley, Martin Donovan, Ona Grauer, and Madeleine Sami all have crucial, memorable roles as well, but readers should experience why, and what they are, for themselves. I will say that Smiley has played some unsavory characters in the past, but this may be his finest hour so far.

Genre-movie lovers clamoring for new approaches and unpredictable storylines should seek out Come to Daddy. Go in as fresh as possible, and prepare for an uncomfortably fun time.

Come to Daddy screened at South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival [BIFAN], which ran June 27–July 7, 2019.