It’s not often that one finds a film that disturbs them to their core. However, writer-director Corey Deshon’s feature debut, Daughter, does just that. This isn’t a straight-up horror with spooks and scares, though. Instead, it’s a cerebral and haunting social commentary about someone’s narrow universe being forced as the only truth upon others – no matter the cost.
A man named Father (Casper Van Dien) kidnaps a girl he names Daughter (Vivien Ngô) to be a part of his family which doesn’t venture into the outside “toxic” world. He promises Daughter that he will not hurt her if she does what he wants and is company to Son (Ian Alexander). All will be well unless she crosses Father, who has a certain view of the world and demands others follow suit too.
The claustrophobia and a message of Daughter
There’s a confined sense to the cinematography as Deshon makes the audience feel as if they are trapped inside of the house with the family. It’s choking and unsettling. Then, it’s made even worse due to the score being used so sparingly throughout. Of course, the uncomfortable nature of the presentation doesn’t make Daughter an easy watch, but that’s the point here. This isn’t meant to be the kind of film where friends gather around for a fun time on Saturday night. No one would put on Schindler’s List as a party film, and neither should they do the same for Daughter.
In terms of the storyline, Daughter doesn’t end on a conclusive note that wraps up the story in a nice bow and package. The film merits multiple rewatches, as its message can be interpreted in various ways. The theme of patriarchal power runs deep through the veins, but the ending doesn’t suggest it magically goes away or changes. It’s more of a cautionary tale of how the world can demand change or to move away from the old ways of thinking; however, there will be those who are resistant to it and will protect their beliefs at all costs.
Van Dien puts on what can be described as a career-best performance. He’s been on the periphery of Hollywood since Starship Troopers, starring in a bunch of budget and C-grade films, but he more than proves he has the acting chops for bigger and meatier parts. In fact, his turn as the haunting and scary Father in Daughter is worthy of an Oscar nomination, as he commands the screen with equal parts authoritarian menace and inexplicable paranoia.
While Van Dien steals the show as the villain, Ngô’s Daughter deserves special mention as the perfect foil. She constantly challenges the status quo of Father’s household, refusing to accept his gospel and the way things are. It’s both terrifying and exciting to watch her rebel against the rules, as the audience roots for her but also knows what Father can do to her.
For those who enjoy thinking horrors from A24, Robert Eggers, or Ari Aster, Daughter is right down the same alley. It’s a difficult watch and it won’t leave a viewer eager to jump back into this story immediately after, but it’s what all good art should be: emotionally rousing, for better or worse.