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The surprising inspiration behind Kiwi director Ant Timpson's Come to Daddy


Strange-film buff Ant Timpson talks to Russell Baillie about how a movie so outlandish could spring from something sad and personal.

It’s possibly not surprising that Ant Timpson’s feature-directing debut, Come to Daddy, is quite so nuts. Its tale of a father and son reunion is scary, funny, bloody, grim, unhinged but entertaining with it. That might be expected of the guy who has for many years programmed the “Incredibly Strange” part of the New Zealand International Film Festival and run the annual riot of spontaneous cinematic weirdness that is the 48 Hour film challenge.

Plus, he’s produced or executive produced a rash of horror comedies and anthologies here and overseas. Enough to keep the Hollywood cinema in Auckland’s Avondale – which he co-owns with his brother, Matt – in business when it’s not being a music venue or housing much of Timpson’s vast collection of 35mm celluloid.

But what is surprising about Timpson’s Come to Daddy is its inspiration – that a movie so outlandish could spring from something sad and personal. Timpson’s father, Tony Timpson, founder of the Cavalier Bremworth carpet empire, died in 2018.

A week spent with his father’s body in his house unnerved Timpson. He later thought it would be the starting point of a script and told British screenwriter Toby Harvey, whom he knew from previous productions. Come to Daddy was born, and with it Timpson’s first chance to direct a feature. He’d previously written and directed a short, Crab Boy, in the mid-90s. That, too, sprang from a death in the family, the passing of his mother. “When my mum died, I kind of went into a big black hole … then I just got busy with everything else and other facets of the industry, and as life does to you, decades flew by pretty quickly. It was a huge realisation after seeing my dad cark it in front of me that mortality was staring me in the mirror. Basically, life’s very short. That was the propulsion to get things under way. It was two deaths. I’ve run out of parents to use as inspiration to get a film made.”

Wood with Ant Timpson: kept “pulling” Timpson back to keep Come to Daddy on the rails. Photo/Getty Images
His folks, he says, shared his sense of humour and were supportive of his taste for offbeat cinema, even when Customs raided the family home over some business to do with Timpson, who was just a youngster, sending horror films in the mail. ”I think they kind of knew the path I’d taken into the types of films that I might end up being associated with. They were absolutely supportive of my love affair with that. I watched a lot of strange films with my parents over the years. It wasn’t always their cup of tea, but they were very tolerant.”

His father would have appreciated the movie that he inspired, he thinks.

“He would f---ing love it. I’m so happy because when you say you made something as a tribute to your dead dad, if it turned out to be a shitter, it would be the most horrible thing on Earth. So, I’m really glad that it’s exactly the type of film that I would have watched with him and he would have been roaring with laughter.”

The film stars Elijah Wood, whose career since Frodo hasn’t lacked for incredibly strange films, as Norval, an LA DJ who has answered a letter from his estranged father and turned up on his doorstep in the back of beyond. The former Hobbit and Timpson have been mates for some time and his signing on helped get the film financed.

“Friendship aside, Elijah wouldn’t have done it as a favour. The script was super tight and well written and we assembled a good team around me in case I did go off the rails. Elijah kept pulling me back because my instincts are always to go too far.”

Timpson shot the film in Canada, with a local and Kiwi crew. Madeleine Sami has a supporting role and composer Karl Steven’s soundtrack adds creepy class to a movie that, after an edgy first act, erupts into outlandish, inventive violence.

“I had fun until the crew thought I had too much fun,” says Timpson, laughing. “I’m very bored by violence in films and I think it’s not used properly when it is.

“That’s why I didn’t want any guns in the script at all – so let’s use their absence in really interesting ways. I turned back into that kid slaughtering my brother with a video camera every weekend.”

Come to Daddy is at selected cinemas now.

Video: Umbrella Entertainment

This article was first published in the February 29, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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