“Daughter” movie review and film summary (2023)

A younger lady runs and a pickup truck follows her. You possibly can’t see who’s driving the truck, as a result of the 2 individuals inside it are sporting face-covering gasoline 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 nearly 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 clarification about Son and Daughter’s two-year age hole.) All shall be nicely if Daughter fulfills her familial obligations and role-plays alongside along 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 mild, some movie grain, and an uncommon deal with uncomfortable silences give “Daughter” a superficial poise and a way of thriller. So what’s unsuitable with this image, and the way do you play this household’s bizarre little recreation?

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 all the time 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 kids to play by themselves. A wierd, emotionally stillborn contest of wills ensues.

It’s typically laborious to know the place precisely “Daughter” is headed, though it’s clearly received 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 crucial considering and casts judgment on the individuals outdoors his home, who might characterize anyone from vax-compliant sheeple to anti-masking mavericks.

Author/director/producer Corey Deshon pays growing consideration to Daughter’s sneaky makes an attempt to affect her surrogate Brother by way of their scripted play, which they collaborate on secretly. However whereas this drama throughout the drama recollects “Dogtooth,” an acknowledged affect, nothing else about “Daughter” feels so distinctive.

Deshon will get quite a bit 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 offered 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 essentially the most thankless function in “Daughter.” He does very nicely 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 usually laborious to attach with Deshon’s insinuating psychodrama. Solely essentially the most dedicated style followers and academic-minded masochists will wish to grasp round till the bitter, arthouse-meets-choose-your-own-adventure type ending.

Nonetheless, “Daughter” has some promise, regardless of additionally seeming like a product of the identical sort of obtained knowledge it purports to insurgent towards. Dinh and Ngo are most likely the 2 finest 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 frivolously meta-reflexive narrative. Spending this a lot time with Father is a bit like being trapped on a street journey with a driver who monologues breathlessly simply to get a couple of issues off their chest and in a approach that is sensible solely to them. And as you take heed to his lengthy, fragmentary ramble, you are feeling your soul attempting 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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