By Philip Clarke
CALGARY — Young Asher’s (Gabe White) biggest concern in life is how to have sex with girls. He goes to his older brother Chester (Chester Rushing) for whatever advice he can spare. They do this while carelessly wandering around the Louisiana backwoods amidst all manner of swamps and gators. Then one day, Asher witnesses the disturbing murder of his brother at the hands of their cruel father Ivan (Gary Stretch). His father also mercilessly beats Asher to the point of mind-numbing submission. His paternal abuse is so bad that Asher becomes both deaf and mute as a result. His father deservedly goes to prison for the next 21 years. During that time, Asher’s childhood friend Nana (Candace Smith) teaches him sign language to help adjust for his lack of both speech and hearing. Two decades pass as Asher now grows into a bitter man (Joe Anderson) that’s just trying to take care for his obese TV-obsessed mother. When his father is released early from prison for reasons of “overcrowding and good behaviour,” Asher kicks his hyper-violent revenge plan into high gear.
Ivan enjoys his newfound freedom the only way he knows how. Naturally this is by casually murdering anyone that gets in his way. Asher dons his brother’s grey wolf headdress and loads up with a sawed-off shotgun to settle the score. Along the way, he reconnects with Nana who films webcam Internet videos to make ends meet for her and young son. Asher’s tethering to these two people is the only thing that helps keep him from drowning in the sea of violence. Their presence is the sole way that he can avoid his own soul from being completely consumed by hatred. Trying to take justice into your own hands isn’t as easy as you’d think. Revenge is messy, complicated and it never works out the way you want it to.
My Father Die is darkly poetic and visually rapturous. Shot on the Arri Alexa camera, director Sean Brosnan and cinematographer Marc Shap used many different lenses to give the film its distinct look in a very deliberately-chosen 2:66:1 aspect ratio. There are many quiet moments punctuated throughout the film that showcase the hauntingly beautiful setting of the Louisiana bayou. The film’s visuals are equal parts hyper-stylized and grounded in visceral realism. It also has its moments of pitch-black humour amid all of the bloodletting and haunting voiceover.
When he was 16, Brosnan was heavily inspired by John Millington Synge’s play “Playboy of The Western World.” It was initially his intention to adapt it into a screenplay, but eventually decided to change tack and use it for his inspiration for this film instead. Being so ensconced in the cinematic poetry of the film itself, Brosnan is hard at work on adapting it into a graphic novel as well.
Stripped down to the very bone, the film eschews Hollywood conventions and glamour. It’s unapologetically brutal and uncompromising in its depiction of both sex and violence. It doesn’t succumb to clichés, because of the sincerity in its storytelling. Every blood spurt, body-kick or bone-break is motivated and used to help tell the story. The characters feel authentic and the seedy underworld feels truly lived in. The film is so much more than your “standard revenge flick,” because of its subversion to genre tropes. It rises above the rest of its genre’s ilk by way of having something to say about human nature, manhood and the roles we play in each other’s lives, by summarizing it as such: Man at his very core is a violent and savage beast.
Catch My Father Die as part of the Calgary International Film Festival Sept. 25 at the Globe Cinema (Licensed screening) and again Oct. 1, also at the Globe.AB, Alberta, Calgary International Film Festival, CIFF, CIFF 2016, Globe Cinema, My Father Die, My Father Die movie, revenge film