Warning: Contains Some Spoilers
In 2003, Welsh Director, Julian Richards produced one of the most chilling and provocative films ever put to screen, The Last Horror Movie. The film was uncomfortably voyeuristic as it documented the escapades of a disturbed serial killer while making a telling commentary on the decline of horror movies in the video rental era. The Last Horror Movie is a film that remains unforgettable, therefore it was pleasing to be given the opportunity to review Richards’s latest film, albeit different, crime horror, Daddy’s Girl.
Daddy’s Girl isn’t as cinematically raw or disturbingly authentic as his 2003 underrated masterpiece, it’s aesthetically slicker and more polished, however the overall narrative is without a doubt thematically dark and gritty.
An afflicted young woman is held captive by her abhorrent stepfather in a small town. She soon becomes a person of interest to a female vigilante and local cop who suspect there is something extremely sinister at play. Daddy’s Girl is a compelling serial killer story that tackles themes of Stockholm Syndrome, emotional abuse and the depths of evil that a person can sink.
Timothy Hill’s screenplay is utterly gripping with an abundance of in-depth character development. Zoe (Jemma Dallender) is exceptionally complex as she remains under her stepfather’s spell, assisting him in his repugnant acts, unable to fight through the darkness and find her way out. Dallender captures a haunted young woman within her performance; however, her character is far from clean-cut. Zoe has committed her own heinous crimes, even if she believes she is saving John’s victims from their sustained torment. It therefore plants the question of, why does Zoe deserve to live any more than the female victims she has eradicated? This element ensures the film isn’t taking any predictable trajectories and portrays the subject matter in a complicated light.
Costas Mandylor (The Saw Franchise) is a commanding presence as the reprehensible John. Each moment he’s on screen he implores a sense of dread, unease and tension especially during the bar scenes where he picks up unsuspecting, flattered young women.
Mandylor plays him as a person you’d want to avoid, bringing in an aloof demeanour which immediately alerts a sense of caution around his character. John has set up his own twisted version of hell, an exceptionally grim dungeon where he carries out his murderous intent. The bleak visuals and the setting are almost like a preview into what hell could look like, while representing both Zoe and John’s unorthodox lifestyles and inner turmoil.
Another tragic dimension to John’s character is his background founded in the mid-2000’s Iraq war. The idea that he, himself is a victim of post 9/11, broken America offers another layer to him to a disturbing effect. Did his circumstances transform him into a monster or were his psychotic tendencies underlying the whole time? On the opposite end of the spectrum is investigative cop, Deputy Scott Wallace (Jesse Moss) who also fought for his country however was affected in a different way. It’s that classic split of ‘good vs. evil’ with Scott seeking justice and instinctively realising there is something ‘off’ about Zoe and John and John inflicting pain and suffering upon innocent women.
Daddy’s Girl is an interesting film, with its release coinciding with the ongoing #MeToo movement. It is imperative that film, and especially horror represent strong women who will fight back and seek peace in the ordeals that they have endured. Horror is the ideal platform for these kinds of representations with the iconic trope of a heroine battling against a monster, signifying a fight against her own demons. Of course, in Daddy’s Girl, that villainous role is human which is far more unsettling than a fictional monster. While affectingly bleak for the most part, Daddy’s Girl supplies a sense of hope and the message to ‘never give up’, ending on a poignant albeit messed-up note.
Daddy’s Girl is a powerful film, featuring tremendous performances and an absorbing storyline.