One of the things I look for in horror cinema is the filmmaker who just won’t back down: the creative who’ll fight for their vision, however twisted or un-PC. Sean Brosnan is one such writer-director, and his dark psyche is let loose in his Southern revenge thriller, My Father Die.
Brosnan (son of Pierce) opens the film in stark black and white. Asher (first-timer, Gabe White) and his older brother, Chester (“Stranger Thing’s” Chester Rushing) are skulking through a forest in Louisiana, eyeing up crocodiles and talking big. Chester introduces Asher to sex, instructing him that it’s little more than a magic boom-boom-pow. Insistent on teaching him, Chester brings his brother along to see Nana (not their grandmother). As Chester begins to make out with her, she asks Asher to leave, but he’s only sent as far as the window. Looking on, he reaches his hand into his pants and just like that, in the grand sex-equals-death tradition, Asher’s father, Ivan (Dead Man’s Shoes’ Gary Stretch), plants his Vietnam veteran’s fist into Asher’s skull. Nana is his lay and he beats on his eldest son with masculine fury. Asher got away just losing his hearing and his speech: his brother wasn’t so lucky.
Two decades later and Asher (now played by The Grey’s Joe Anderson) is informed that prison overcrowding means his father’s a free man once again. His rage unleashed, Asher goes in search of his dear dad like a beast thirsty for vengeance. The resulting Oedipal struggle dominates the remaining running time.
The characters’ rage fuels the whole film, creating a heavily oppressive atmosphere. Every character is broken: the men are all traumatised vets and the women sex workers. Teeming with the victims of war, poverty and rural hopelessness, anything goes in the Bayou. Brutal killings and terrifying car chases fly by with barely a shrug of police interest. The raw locations are a battleground for male fury.
My Father Die is hard to pin down. There are shades of Jeff Nichols’ Mud in the film’s hazy Southern visuals and the focus on the relationship between the brothers. Then there are splatters of the genre-bending rawness Jeremy Saulnier displayed in Blue Ruin and Green Room, as well as his penchant for blending toxic atmospheres. I was also reminded of the lyrical harshness of Cormac McCarthy (author of “Blood Meridian”, “The Road”). And, while I can’t speak for how similar it gets, Brosnan was also directly inspired by John Millington Singe’s 1907 play The Playboy of the Western World.
Both White and Anderson are very strong in the duel role of Asher, with the latter having something of the Kurt Cobain about him. Anderson’s performance is all the more impressive for being dialogue-free. His physicality more than compensates for his muteness and the character stands as a thoughtful twist on the strong silent archetype. White’s face alone makes him a fascinating subject, but his most significant contribution is the delivery of Brosnan’s fable-like narration.
From the opening frame, cinematographer, Marc Shap shoots the film beautifully and the contrast of the rich sepia tones with the bold monochrome of the flashbacks is a striking one. Much like the colour palette, there’s a seam of jet-black humour that runs throughout the entire film, and that can be hard to grapple with as the carnage escalates. At times, I felt like Brosnan was running into dangerous water, especially when it comes to the very real-world issues addressed (homophobia and police brutality, for example). Following every barbaric act with a wink towards the audience became pretty rough as things progressed, right down to the Shakespearian (or Pythonesque, depending on who you ask) final showdown.
My Father Die is a messed up delight. Brosnan displays a real knack for both the horrifying humour and the base brutality, and somehow manages to wrestle the two into a cohesive, if wild, whole. Some may be put off, but the rewards are rich for those who go with the ride.
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