(director: Ant Timpson; screenwriter: story by Toby Harvard/Toby Harvard; cinematographer: Daniel Katz; editor: Dan Kircher; music: Karl Steven; cast: Elijah Wood (Norval Greenwood), Stephen McHattie (Gordon), Martin Donovan (Brian), Michael Smiley (Jethro), Madeleine Sami (Gladys), Simon Chin (Dandy); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mette-Marie Kongsved, Laura Tunstall, Daniel Bekerman, Katie Holly, Emma Slade, Toby Harvard; Saban Films; 2019)

“Things become really strange, violent and ridiculous.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The dark comedy plays out as an over-the-top thriller about daddy issues. It weirdly tries to put its finger on its main character while the narrative amusingly keeps changing direction until it can’t change anymore. It’s the directorial debut of Ant Timpson. The sometimes smart screenplay is by Toby Harvard, the author of the story (with Timpson’s input). Harvard previously teamed with Timpson on The Greasy Strangler, in which Harvard wrote the screenplay and Timpson was producer.

The set-up has the odd-looking 35-year-old Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) surprisingly receive a letter from his estranged father Gordon (Stephen McHattie), who abandoned him and mom when he was 5 and never made any contact before now. He’s asking his son to visit him.

Dressed like a weirdo, with a pencil mustache and a medieval monk-like haircut, Norval, who still lives with mom in her luxurious Beverly Hills home, takes a bus from L.A. to arrive at the remote Oregon town where his dad lives. He then follows the instructions on the hand-drawn map included in the letter and walks through the woods to meet his grizzled and reclusive father in his isolated beach-side cabin, which he says looks like “a UFO from the 1960s.” The two strangers hug at first when meeting but over the next few days fail to connect and their talk is strained, even leading to a few verbal spats.The alcoholic dad, with a passive-aggressive attitude, takes delight in embarrassing his son and mocking him at every turn. When the snobby Norval tells his nasty dad he overcame a serious drinking problem, boasts that he is considered a big-shot DJ in the music industry and has a close relationship over the years with Elton John, dad reacts by trying to kill his son with a meat cleaver.

When the over-excited elderly dad drops dead from a heart attack, Norval remains to talk with the corpse and while drinking tells dad what he couldn’t say before. Norval curiously stares at a photo album, containing pictures of his mother and father when they were younger, hears strange noises in the house and discovers a secret passage leading to a hidden room.

From here-on things become really strange, violent and ridiculous. Without spoiling the reveal that involves a blood-splattered ride and the introduction of a number of new vile characters who seem to come out of the woodwork and leave Norval fighting to save his life.

Michael Smiley’s character is a daunting figure as a gang leader, armed with a flaming crossbow, while his rival criminal is the character played also insanely by Martin Donovan. The New Zealander Madeleine Sami offers a lovable deadpan comical performance, as she plays the coroner.