Friday, February 10, 2023

Daughter, Starring Casper Van Dien

Four years ago, the menacing unnamed “Father,” who refuses to allow his family outside their modest country home, would have been considered abusive and borderline psychotic. Then, for two and a half years, the media would have considered him a model parent. Now, hopefully he is back to being a sinister creep. Regardless, kidnaping his improvised family would have always been illegal, but it is questionable whether he would be prosecuted in the current Bragg-Gascon-Boudin era. Indeed, his latest abductee is pretty much on her own in Corey Deshon’s Daughter, which releases today in theaters and on VOD.

We see what happened to “Sister’s” predecessor when she tried to run away. It isn’t pretty. Of course, Father guilt trips “Mother” for not preventing it, because he is a stone-cold manipulator. To replace her, he abducts the a new “Daughter,” to act as the “Sister” to “Brother,” whose well-being seems to be Father’s motivation for everything.

Apparently, the sickly Brother has been brainwashed into believing some kind of disaster has rendered the outside atmosphere unbreathable. For some reason, Father is raising Brother to believe he is the only hope for saving the world. However, he is sickly and therefore requires the sheltering attention new Sister will help provide. Brother is a little off too, but not in a menacing way. He is not likely to deliberately betray her, but Daughter just cannot trust Mother, a long-term captive resigned to her circumstances, despite their shared heritage and Vietnamese fluency.

It is unclear whether Father truly suffers from apocalyptic delusions or simply tries to gaslight them into his captive “family” to maintain his hold over them. Arguably, that ambiguity is why Casper Van Dien’s performance is so creepy. He creates a ferocious persona, but most of his fury comes through bad vibes and withering stares rather than outright violence. Likewise, Elyse Dinh is quite remarkable as the conflicted “Mother,” possibly stricken with Stockholm Syndrome. Her scenes with both Daughter and Father are grimly tense.

It is great work from Dinh and the
Starship Troopers star, but the distressed, vintage grindhouse look Deshon is going for, somewhat works against his cast. It is a gimmicky distraction. Yet, the tone remains unremittingly dark, wearing viewers down. Instead of nail-biting cat-and-mouse action, Deshon opts for a slow-burn that is often a little too slow. This is most definitely not a “fun” watch. Frankly, a lot of viewers will feel just as uncomfortably trapped as “Daughter/Sister.” Respected for its ambition, but not really recommended, Daughter releases today (2/10) in theaters and on-demand.