Most thrillers spend the first five-ten-fifteen minutes establishing characters and atmosphere before the tension and suspense starts. Daniel Wolfe’s new thriller Catch Me Daddy takes the odd approach of instead using the first twenty-five to thirty minutes. I call it odd because the lifeblood of the thriller genre is brevity and narrative compaction. And make no mistake, the first twenty-five to thirty minutes of Catch Me Daddy regard plot advancement with secondary, even tertiary concern. Instead, Wolfe invites the audience to enter the rhythm of life inhabited by the film’s characters: sluggish from the perpetual cold of the Yorkshire moors, British Pakistani teen Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) and her white boyfriend Aaron (Connor McCarron) eke out a desperate yet cozy living in a caravan kingdom of their own creation. Theirs is an existence of working class ennui: of long, silent pauses waiting for the kettle to boil; of deep, smokey breaths in between cigarette drags; of tedious, dull hours cutting hair at a village salon. But at night, together and alone, they seem genuinely happy.
The remainder of the film is a rash destruction of their fantasy world as Laila’s relatives, assisted by a couple of white bounty hunters, invade their lives, intent on an honor killing for her running away. The second act stumbles through chaotic night-time sequences that seem to mistake confusion and audience disorientation with action. More than once I was left baffled as to where the characters were in relation to each other. The film collects itself back together in time for a truly devastating third act, climaxing in a truly chilling confrontation between father and daughter. It’s obvious that these last five minutes constitute the film’s raison d’être; it’s the focal point for everything that Wolfe is trying to say and accomplish with Catch Me Daddy.
Ultimately, I’m not sure that Catch Me Daddy should have been a feature film. Perhaps a more truncated version would have better sufficed. Honestly, with a little fixing up, the last five minutes could have served as a short film in and of itself. Everything else feels worrisomely perfunctory, custom-made for the cloistered world of the film festival circuit. The aforementioned opening twenty-five to thirty minutes feel like a facsimile of how “serious filmmakers” would establish tone and pacing in “serious films.”
I was surprised to read that Wolfe originally envisioned Catch Me Daddy as a kind of Western, because absolutely nothing in the film screams “Western.” There’s too much moral ambiguity for comparisons with classical Hollywood Westerns, too little bombast and coherence for comparisons with Spaghetti Westerns, and not enough of an indictment against the entrenched cultural values that lead to honor killings for comparisons with Revisionist Westerns. And that’s alright. Catch Me Daddy doesn’t have to be a Western. It can (and should) be a beast of its own design. I just wish that the filmmakers had limited themselves to what they needed to tell instead of what they felt like they were required to tell.