A younger woman runs and a pickup truck follows her. You may’t see who’s driving the truck, as a result of the 2 individuals inside it are sporting face-covering fuel masks. They seize the runner and forcibly subdue her. The opening credit play all through, they usually don’t appear to depart anyone out. Quickly after, the film begins. This scene, and almost each one after it, was shot on 16mm movie and in surprisingly lengthy takes.
“Daughter,” an eccentric cult/hostage thriller, follows the 2 mask-wearing kidnappers, who self-identify as Father (Casper Van Dien) and Mom (Elyse Dinh), and their would-be sufferer, whom they name Daughter (Vivien Ngô). Father tells Daughter why he’s chained her up in his storage: his impressionable Son (Ian Alexander) wants a sibling, only for two extra years. (It’s unclear why this issues regardless of a negligible rationalization about Son and Daughter’s two-year age hole.) All shall be properly if Daughter fulfills her familial obligations and role-plays alongside together with her new household. Father may in any other case flip violent, and whereas he says he doesn’t wish to, the opening chase suggests in any other case.
Mom reassures her Daughter in Vietnamese. This early dialog appears to go on for longer than it ought to, however the silences that punctuate Dinh’s speech solely deepen the unsettling temper established by a wide-angle grasp shot, which highlights the sheer measurement and vacancy of Father’s storage. Pure gentle, some movie grain, and an uncommon deal with uncomfortable silences give “Daughter” a superficial poise and a way of thriller. So what’s wrong with this image, and the way do you play this household’s bizarre little sport?
Father establishes some generic expectations and floor guidelines. He tells Son the world outdoors is sick, which additionally ostensibly explains his ominous home-schooling classes. Mom prefers to go alongside to get alongside and encourages Daughter to do the identical. (In Vietnamese: “It’s simpler to provide him what he desires.”) Son grins broadly and at all times tries to please Father. Daughter scatters seeds of distrust by suggesting that she and her new Brother ought to collaborate on a play for his upcoming birthday. Father has his doubts—I imply, yeah—however permits his children to play by themselves. An odd, emotionally stillborn contest of wills ensues.
It’s generally arduous to know the place precisely “Daughter” is headed, although it’s clearly obtained one thing to do with storytelling and indoctrination. Van Dien’s dialogue is just too flat and unyielding to be price contemplating for lengthy. He rails about essential pondering and casts judgment on the individuals outdoors his home, who may symbolize anyone from vax-compliant sheeple to anti-masking mavericks.
Author/director/producer Corey Deshon pays rising consideration to Daughter’s sneaky makes an attempt to affect her surrogate Brother by means of their scripted play, which they collaborate on secretly. However whereas this drama inside the drama recollects “Dogtooth,” an acknowledged affect, nothing else about “Daughter” feels so distinctive.
Deshon will get loads out of his ensemble forged members, even the comparatively inexperienced Alexander, who puzzles over Daughter’s directions like an excited pet. Ngô stands out, particularly in scenes the place she tries and fails to attach with Dinh’s elusive Mom. These two Vietnamese-American actresses share an uncharacteristically tense dialog within the household’s kitchen. Deshon helps issues together with some exact digital camera blocking, giving the scene the phantasm of depth and character, since this stalled dialog is introduced from over the characters’ shoulders and behind an island counter that separates the kitchen from the adjoining room. It’s suggestive, if not precisely significant.
Van Dien takes on probably the most thankless function in “Daughter.” He does very properly as a rage case nutball, the form of man whose seething condescension makes even his most pseudo-placating dialogue threatening. On the identical time, there’s a lot of Van Dien’s Father on this film that it’s typically arduous to attach with Deshon’s insinuating psychodrama. Solely probably the most dedicated style followers and academic-minded masochists will wish to cling round till the bitter, arthouse-meets-choose-your-own-adventure model ending.
Nonetheless, “Daughter” has some promise, regardless of additionally seeming like a product of the identical sort of acquired knowledge it purports to insurgent in opposition to. Dinh and Ngo are in all probability the 2 greatest causes to look at “Daughter” although Van Dien stays the de facto star; Daughter has to basically combat him for management of the film’s calmly meta-reflexive narrative. Spending this a lot time with Father is a bit like being trapped on a highway journey with a driver who monologues breathlessly simply to get just a few issues off their chest and in a method that is smart solely to them. And as you take heed to his lengthy, fragmentary ramble, you are feeling your soul making an attempt to flee your physique as you battle to think about a satisfying finish to this man’s rant. “Daughter” is a protracted runway to a steep cliff.
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