VOD film review: My Father Die
Stretch / Anderson8
Matthew Turner | On 22, Mar 2017
Director: Sean Brosnan
Cast: Joe Anderson, Gary Stretch, Candace Smith, Kevin Gage, Rose Britz, Thomas Francis Murphy, Gabe White
Watch My Father Die online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Full of ideas and dripping with atmosphere, this Southern Gothic revenge thriller marks a stylish, confident debut for writer-director Sean (son of Pierce) Brosnan. It also confirms Joe Anderson as one of the UK’s most interesting, under-the-radar actors.
Set in the swamplands of Louisian bayou country, the film begins with a brutal prologue sequence filmed in stark black and white, as dirt-poor 12 year-old Asher (Gabe Asher) is preparing to lose his virginity to willing local girl Nana (Trina LaFargue), at the urging of his older brother, Chester (Chester Rushing). However, they are interrupted by the arrival of their monstrous father, Ivan (Gary Stretch), who views Nana as his own property and violently beats both his sons, killing Chester and leaving Asher permanently deaf.
10 years later, deaf-mute Asher (now played by Joe Anderson) learns that Ivan is getting out of jail and sets out on a violent, Oedipal revenge quest, aiming to kill his father before he unleashes his savagery on anyone else. Along the way, he reunites with Nana (Candace Smith), who now has an adorable young son (Jonathan Billions). However, in the tradition of all the best movie monsters, one-eyed Ivan proves particularly difficult to kill.
Anderson is terrific as Asher, delivering a driven and intense performance that’s all the more affecting for its lack of dialogue – if there were any justice, Anderson would have an A-list career by now, instead of languishing in ‘Oh, it’s that guy’ roles for the past decade. Similarly, Stretch (a former pro boxer, best known as the villain in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes) is genuinely terrifying as Ivan, his physically imposing form put to suitably menacing use – crucially, the film makes no attempt to explain his bestial nature; he simply exists, fully-formed, as an unstoppable force of destruction.
Although the plot is pure exploitation material, Brosnan’s literate script plays heavily on mythology, allusion and symbolism, whether it’s a close-up of a Rubens painting that depicts Saturn devouring his son or the poetic language of Gabe’s voiceover narration, which, in a brilliantly inventive touch, is delivered in the 12-year-old voice he lost. Despite the occasional brush with pretentiousness, the effect is largely successful, ascribing the tale a mythical quality that elevates it above standard horror fare.
That said, while the violence is for the most part effective and well-handled (those averse to ocular distress may wish to avert their eyes), Brosnan overplays his hand in two uncomfortably gratuitous scenes, one involving homophobia and the other other a nasty rape sequence, with the latter all the more offensive for the lack of impact it has on the story, and the way it’s jauntily intercut with clips from an aerobics video. Those scenes are decidedly not for the faint-hearted and may ultimately backfire, causing otherwise interested viewers to switch off.
Elsewhere, though, the director excels at creating a sweaty, sleazy atmosphere, heightened by Marc Shap’s dusky, sun-baked cinematography and a colourful score from Justin Small and Ohad Benchetrit. This is a gripping and intense thriller-slash-horror distinguished by stylish direction and a strong sense of ambition.