Elijah Wood’s acting career has undergone a curious evolution in the years since the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy brought him to prominence. In tandem with the launch of production company SpectreVision, Wood has embraced his genre sensibilities with a range of horror, fantasy, and thriller projects made well beyond the studio arena.
The latest example, “Come to Daddy,” is the paragon of Wood’s sensibilities: The directorial debut of longtime genre producer Ant Timpson is the eerie look at a young man visiting his estranged father at a remote countryside home, where he discovers his hard-drinking pop might not be telling the full truth. From there, “Come to Daddy” careens into a bloody, slapstick thrill ride, equal parts “Evil Dead” and early Peter Jackson.
Wood met Timpson years ago on the genre festival circuit, and the pair worked together as co-producers on the wacky Sundance midnight sensation “The Greasy Strangler.” That was when Timpson first started talking about the premise for “Come to Daddy,” which drew on his personal experiences looking after his father’s death, when the filmmaker was tasked with looking after the body. “He had to sit with his dad’s body for a week and ended up meeting all these characters from his dad’s past,” Wood said. Later, Timpson sent Wood the script by Toby Harvard. “You never know where it’s going,” Wood said. “It constantly shifts in regards to its direction. It starts off as this family reunion story, and turns into something really different at the end, but still retains this emotional core. I love that it has the genre aspects along with this emotional truth.”
Needless to say, “Come to Daddy” provides Wood with one of his more endearing and kooky performances in some time — a mustachioed alcoholic from Los Angeles coming to grips with his dysfunctional family’s history, he’s a tragic figure whose dazed expression has an undercurrent of deadpan comedy. “Ant sent me a photo of [electronic musician] Skrillex and said, ‘This is what I want the character to look like,’” Wood said. “That ultimately became the character — this weird, successful deejay and fashionista millennial. It was really fun figuring that out.”
Wood met Timpson at the Austin genre festival Fantastic Fest, where he also connected with Spanish directors Nacho Vigalondo and Eugenio Mira. All three directors eventually brought projects to Wood, starting with Vigalondo’s “Open Windows” from 2014 — a pioneering example of the desktop thriller genre — and followed by Mira’s classical suspense story “Grand Piano.” Wood, whose experiences socializing with genre filmmakers and fans catalyzed his interest in the space, said there was no specific turning point in his career. “It’s such an organic process,” he said. “My intention is not to circumvent agents, but it’s just interesting to find work where it kind of comes to you. Some of these things are the ones representative of a portion of my taste and the kind of movies I really like to make.”
For the most part, he has kept the slate of genre titles produced by SpectreVision separate from his acting gigs, even when the sensibilities overlap. (He is not a producer on “Come to Daddy.”) “We started the company as a means to produce films, and not things for me to appear in as an actor,” he said, acknowledging that he did end up acting in “Cooties” and “Open Windows,” both made during his company’s earlier days. “For the most part, there’s a separation of church and state. Wearing one hat for producing is slightly different than being an actor. I have to consciously take one hat off to put the other one on.”
Last year, that meant he was one of the behind-the-scenes figures who helped bring “Mandy” to the world. Panos Cosmatos’ surreal Nicolas Cage revenge vehicle was a cult hit on the festival circuit and eventually turned into a surprise theatrical phenomenon, with sold-out showings around the country even while it was available on VOD. “That entire experience, including a very unexpected theatrical rollout, was a very unexpected thing to be a part of,” Wood said. “To see a movie that wasn’t meant to be a wide release film — it’s violent and polarizing — but for it to drive people to the cinema again and again, despite that they could see it on VOD, was really wild and a rousing endorsement for the film.” For Wood and SpectreVision co-producers Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, and Lisa Whalen, the “Mandy” success raised expectations for what the company could push out to the world. “It put us in the realm we hadn’t seen before as a company, in terms of the degree that people connected with something we produced,” Wood said. “It felt like a move in a broader direction to engage with things that connect with people.”
It also put them in the Nicolas Cage business. The actor has already wrapped production on his second SpectreVision title, Richard Stanley’s sci-fi thriller “Color Out of Space,” about a small town struck by a meteorite that contends with bizarre events. Wood spent a week on set. “Oh my god, it’s looking incredible,” he said. “It has an almost Amblin quality. There’s something really classical in its approach that was surprising to all of us.” He was keen on the potential for more films produced at a scale that studios abandoned years ago in favor of the blockbuster-only approach. “What’s interesting is that midrange budget level of $13-$30 million where people can do something riskier and weirder but at a higher budget level,” he said. “The studios that can only do big movies are disappearing, and this new, smaller movies might be coming back as well.”
“Come to Daddy” premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Check out an exclusive clip below.