Director: Sean Brosnan
Writer: Sean Brosnan
Producer: Sean Brosnan, Sanja Banic, Orian Williams, Alma Bogdan-Turner, Pierce Brosnan
Stars: Joe Anderson, Gary Stretch, Candace Smith, Kevin Gage, Gabe White, John Schneider, William Mark McCullough, Thomas Francis Murphy
A young man sets out for revenge against the father who murdered his brother and made him a deaf mute when they were children.
While Asher Rawlings had his own hand down his pants, his father Ivan was curling his into a fist. Asher’s idolized older brother Chester sneaked away with dad’s young mistress Nana and when Ivan caught Chester in the act with Asher playing Peeping Tom, both brothers were in for a beating.
The bell his dad rung went forever silent as Asher was stricken permanently deaf by Ivan’s brutal blow. He was the luckier of the two siblings. Restrained by his father’s motorcycle club mate and fellow Vietnam veteran Tank, Asher was forced to watch Ivan murder Chester with bare hands of venomous fury.
Two decades later, it’s Asher’s turn for rage to burn white hot from the inside out. Word has come that Ivan is unexpectedly out of prison. The day Asher long dreaded as well as secretly desired is finally at hand. Asher will at last avenge Chester for the sins of their father. He has no idea what to expect when he confronts Ivan, or if he can even fully follow through. All Asher knows for certain is that no matter what happens, one of them is definitely going to die.
“My Father Die” is writer/director Sean Brosnan’s contemporary interpretation of John Millington Synge’s 1907 work “The Playboy of the Western World.” Where Synge’s play is a dark comedy about a dumbfounded braggart whose invented myth of being a murderer is exposed, Brosnan’s film boasts brutality that shares more in common with Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left.” There is little to laugh about in this thematically thick tale of fractured family and ferocious revenge.
Trading turn-of-the-century Ireland for the Bible belt backwoods of 1990s Louisiana, “My Father Die” is populated by roadhouse roughnecks in sweat-stained tank tops swatting swampland skeeters and slamming screen doors. Brosnan isn’t just going for a lived-in look to this location. Draped over the details and oozing out of every character is a silently buzzing sense of electric intensity. These are desperate people motivated by hopelessness, hate, oppressive circumstances, and each fuse of feebly keeping their lives together is growing shorter by the moment.
Lead actor Joe Anderson featured in Darren Lynn Bousman’s horror-noir thriller “Abattoir.” Anderson has scruffy Southerner authenticity in both appearance and swagger, though his clenched-teeth drawl became such a nuisance in “Abattoir” (review here) that I criticized him for having a “bothersome mumble.” In a coincidental bit of personalized irony, Anderson plays a mute in “My Father Die,” as though the genre films gods considered my complaint and asked with a cynical wink, “now what?”
Anderson’s Asher meets his match in Gary Stretch’s Ivan. Ivan’s motives are mostly mysterious. Was he an evil force of nature prior to Vietnam or did war make him that way? “My Father Die” doesn’t fully define Ivan as an antagonist. It doesn’t express a need to. Ivan’s function as an irredeemable bastard, a mild moniker deserving far worse words, is to be a mere object for Asher. Stretch plays the man like Michael Myers, fleshing this foil as an embodiment of seemingly unstoppable menace.
As filmmaker Sean Brosnan’s first feature, “My Father Die” is one of the more accomplished directorial debuts audiences are likely to see in an indie thriller. Regardless of how much the movie achieves, which is quite a lot considering a short shooting schedule and $600,000 production budget, it is still clear that Brosnan’s artistic itch was let off its leash and ran away from him.
Brosnan overcomes the narrative obstacle of having a deaf mute protagonist through first-person voiceovers recited by Asher as a boy. Taking inspiration from John Millington Synge’s flowery prose, Brosnan paints poetic narration with a push broom, slathering on grave import with wordy internal monologues when much less metaphoric meaning is set by the scenes themselves.
Editing is equally eager to be overindulgent. Smash cuts accompanied by screaming music, dissolves into juxtaposed flames, and macabre Renaissance paintings strangely slotted at scene breaks are only some examples of how in a rush the movie is to be stylized when the tone of the story doesn’t demand theatrics. This approach goes from occasionally distracting to questionably inappropriate during a rape scene bizarrely intercut with clips from a VHS aerobics video and random inserts of mounted deer heads.
Plotting pitfalls trip pacing too, though not enough to make the film fall out of stride. Particularly problematic is a B plot following one footstep behind the A story and failing to meet at a meaningful junction. One supporting character on that arc is a sheriff later revealed to have been a bit of a childhood bully toward Asher. Potential exists here for a conflicted relationship dynamic, but the movie doesn’t take the open opportunity. Instead, the sheriff is paired with a suit and tie detective filling a hole in the cast list that doesn’t exist.
The script certainly doesn’t need both of these lawmen. At the very least, both characters could combine into one who actually puts pressure on the main plot. As the sheriff and detective stand separately, neither offers Asher assistance and neither provides an impediment preventing execution of Asher’s revenge plan. So what role do they serve to the story?
“My Father Die” is rough around the edges, though on that jagged edge is precisely where its unflinching grit demands to live. In addition to vulgarity and a pungent sniff of sleaziness in its air, dialogue regularly repeats words like “f*ggot” in an effort to rattle audiences with confrontational coarseness. Academics can argue about closeted homophobic subtext, if any exists, though it stands as fair warning that “My Father Die” can be a tough film to take.
Brosnan is evidently still learning how to suss out essential elements while building confidence to cut out the chaff. There exists some confusion on how to portray a sympathetic anti/hero, e.g. maybe Asher doesn’t need to hit a hooker in the face with a shovel. Some moments seem built primarily to prolong the runtime, e.g. every time Asher and Nana don’t take the chance to finish Ivan when they have it.
Yet spectacular staging of a crafty car chase and attention to momentary details like Asher massaging his mom’s feet show an eye for cinematic storytelling with potentially boundless room to evolve. “My Father Die” is flawed by the hand of a conductor getting carried away with his baton, but the mean streak in its style refuses to go unnoticed by leaving an imprint not soon forgotten.
Review Score: 70