At times dark and satirical and other times downright funny and something bordering sincere, Daddy is set in a dystopian society where the government has the authority to determine who can and cannot father children. It's a process that hints at darkness, though plays out with more of a sci-fi tinged anxiety pounded into place by an institutionalized toxic masculinity that plays out in different ways. Initially, we're introduced to Jono Sherman's Jeremy, a wannabe father being kinda sorta interrogated by F.R.A.N.N. (Britt Baron), an AI sort of presence who seemingly determines if Jeremy gets to the next phase.
It's that next phase where we spend most of our time - a mountainous retreat setting where Jeremy gathers alongside Mo (Pomme Koch), Sebastian (Yuriy Sardarov), and Andrew (Neal Kelley) for some sort of evaluation weekend about which no one seems to have a clue.
The framework of Daddy is one that hints at being familiar, though writers/directors Neal Kelley and Jono Sherman have kept the indie vibe strong throughout and this is a film that goes a little bit darker than you might expect and avoids anything resembling cookie-cutter outcomes.
There's satire throughout Daddy, from a baby doll that becomes a key narrative focus to ever escalating paranoia about the lack of a facilitator, or "monitor," or, perhaps the possibility that someone present is actually the monitor or it could even be Ally (Jacqueline Toboni), who shows up at the cabin for unclear reasons with an unclear purpose and a story that keeps subtly changing.
Fresh off a screening at the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival, Daddy is a narratively challenging film that refuses to spoon feed the audience and instead explores themes of toxic masculinity, fatherhood, and dreams to create a unique cinematic experience with compelling characters and enough artistic integrity to draw you in and leave you thinking long after the closing credits have rolled.
Daddy focuses much of its energy on Yuriy Sardarov's ultra-masculine Sebastian, who becomes convinced that cameras are everywhere and pretty much everything is a test. Sardarov, most familiar from his work in Chicago Fire, The Rookie, and Argo, has perhaps the most dramatic arc here and it's a lot of fun watching him bring it to life. Pomme Koch (The Band's Visit) shines as Mo and Daddy's finest moments exist largely between the dueling energies of Sebastian and Mo.
Matt Orenstein's original score is an absolute highlight here and practically a character unto itself. I was so taken by it that I found myself checking out Orenstein's IMDB credits at the film's end.
Daddy continues on its indie fest circuit and seems destined to find success amongst those who can appreciate its bold voice and artistic integrity. Daddy isn't the kind of film that typically arrives in your neighborhood multiplex, however, for those who prefer more intelligent, thoughtful cinema the rewards will be immense here. To tell you much else would absolutely spoil the fun - suffice it to say that Daddy is definitely a film to check out if it arrives at an indie fest or theater near you. You'll be glad you did.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic