Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Father, Die: Southern Exploitation for People Who Hate the South

It is only due to the influence of his father that Asher Rawlings is the man he is today: a psychosomatically deaf-mute introvert. However, he harbors ambitions of becoming a patricidal killer. It would be an improvement. Revenge comes deep fried in Sean Brosnan’s grubby My Father, Die (trailer here) which opens this Friday in New York.

MFD opens with an ultra-stylized flashback that shows us how Rawlings’ dysfunctional family ran fatally off the rails. To teach him the birds-and-the-bees, his older brother Chester sets him up to peep while he pays a call on Nana. She is roughly Chester’s age, but their Neanderthal father Ivan stills considers her his exclusive sexual property. Therefore, the biker father logically murders Chester and beats the snot out Asher when he barges into their rendezvous.

Ten years later, the old man is released due to prison over-crowding, leading Rawlings to understandably freak out. Resolving the best defense is a good offense, Rawlings saws off a shotgun and heads out to kill his father like the rabid dog he is. Thanks to a violent encounter with Ivan’s old pal Tank, Rawlings gets the drop on him in his scumbag motel. However, he ill-advisedly assumes the battered Ivan is dead. You know what assuming does. Thus, Rawlings’ grudge match becomes a mutual thing.

Frankly, MFD probably sounds considerably more fun than it really is. Tonally, it is a bizarre mishmash, over-reliant on black-and-white flashbacks and ponderous narration recorded in Rawlings’ prepubescent, pre-tragedy voice. They are played so achingly self-serious, it makes you wonder if they were intended to parody pretentious indie films. Needless to say, if viewers can’t tell if considerable portions of MFD were meant to be satire that’s a problem.

Brosnan’s oozing contempt for the South also gets old quickly. Whether it is white power bikers or tent revival evangelists who secretly visit pornographic webchats wearing an S&M hood, his vision of Southern men is gothic in the extreme. How would Brosnan (son of Pierce) like it if Southern Evangelical filmmakers made a film in Ireland, portraying the Irish as nothing but drunks and terrorists? Obviously, that would be grossly unjust, but it would be about as fair as the treatment dispensed in MFD.

Since English Joe Anderson spends most of his time as “adult” Asher wearing shades and his late brother’s raccoon skin hat, it is hard to connect with the character and the performance. At least former Merseyside-born boxer Gary Stretch is impressively fierce as the dad from Hell. As Tank, Kevin Gage (from Wisconsin—technically not the South either, but much closer) chews the scenery and howls in pain with gusto.

So, what about that comma between “father” and “die?” Sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not. Its better off without it. Awkward title syntax just seems to generate bad karma. As it is, MFD is already too scuzzy in the wrong, non-retro sort of way. By refusing to fully embrace the payback genre and the bayou milieu, Brosnan ultimately sabotages his own attempt at neo-Southern exploitation. Not recommended, My Father Die opens this Friday (1/20) in New York, at the Cinema Village.