Daughter (2022) Review
“The following is based more on fact than fiction.” These words appear in Daughter’s opening credits. Combined with footage of two gas masked figures, Father (Casper Van Dien, Mad Heidi, Battle for Saipan), and Brother (Ian Alexander, Star Trek: Discovery, The OA) chasing down a young woman it gives the feeling that we’re about to see another piece of low budget psycho cinema. When they catch up to her Father beats her to death with a hammer, which only reinforces that impression.
Impressions can be deceiving however and Corey Deshon who makes his feature film directorial debut, he’d previously written Trespassers, has something very different in mind even if it isn’t immediately obvious.
When we next see Father he’s with another woman (Megan Le, Lazarus Rising, Human Zoo), this one tied up on the garage floor. He tells her that he doesn’t want any harm to come to her but if it comes to it she will be harmed, and that her name is Daughter. But she can respond to Sister when appropriate.
She, and the viewer, are eventually introduced to Mother (Elyse Dinh, Maika, Spider-Man 2), “This is your mother. We had you twenty years ago”. Of course, she’s not their biological daughter, it’s just another facet of the twisted reality Father lives in and enforces on his family. All of which he claims is what needs to be done to protect his son.
At its core, Deshon’s film is about the manipulation of reality in order to control others. Father claims the world outside is poisonous, contaminated by pollution, hence the gas masks. What we see in the opening scene though is a blue sky and green leafy trees. The film’s time frame is also uncertain, the family truck and the house’s furnishings are far from modern, and they use a Polaroid. Is the film set in the past, or are they merely living in the past?
By leaving the viewer disoriented and unsure of the film’s reality it becomes easier for them to emphasize with Daughter and her uncertainty as she tries to understand and navigate this twisted family structure so she can avoid her predecessor’s fate.
And as a psychological horror film, Daughter works quite well. It’s tense and unpredictable, with neither our heroine nor the viewer sure who can be trusted and how anyone will react at a given moment. Have the others been gaslit and/or intimidated into compliance, or are they willing participants?
But once again Deshon is going for something beyond surface appearances. When you look at the film’s family, something stands out about its composition. Father, who is the unquestioned authority on all matters of this world and the next, and Brother, for whom everything is done, are both males who speak only English. Brother may be subservient to Father but Mother and Daughter are further down the line. They’re both Asian, presumably Vietnamese since they speak it as well as English.
That leaves us with a white man at the head of the order, going to whatever lengths are needed including murder, to hold onto his place. Next in line, another male, this one mixed race but still male and part white. Women and minorities are there for their needs, and in the case of Daughter, literally disposable. It’s a fairly grim assessment of American society but one which you can hardly blame Deshon who is himself a minority for having.
Holding much of the film together is a strong performance by Van Dien as a man who obviously loves his son, but overwise is a completely terrible person even without his habitual homicide, demanding unquestioning obedience and refusing to admit anything could possibly be his fault. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him in a role where he gets to actually act I’d forgotten that he could deliver a performance like this. That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t excellent, they need to be to make this script work. But while the film is about Le’s character, Van Dien has the showcase role. But then again, the villain often is the best part to have.
Credit also needs to go to cinematographer Hana Kitasei (The Unborn, Paulie Go!). Daughter is set almost entirely indoors, the only exceptions being the opening and closing scenes. Kitasei brings out the feeling of not just being indoors but a stifling feeling of being trapped within the house’s walls. The frequently discordant score by David Strother also helps maintain that sense of unease.
An intelligent and effective piece of psychological horror with more on its mind than simple thrills, Daughter will be released in theatres, as well as to Digital and VOD platforms on February 10th by Dark Star Pictures. It will be available on DVD on May 9th. You can check their Facebook page for more information. In the UK Lightbulb Film Distribution will make it available to Digital platforms on February 20th. If you need some additions to your film family, Film Tagger can suggest some titles.