Sub-text is everything. 

Horror, the best horror, has always reflected the times we live in. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, the spectre of Hiroshima loomed over the likes of Godzilla and Them! our nuclear sins made flesh, Mother Nature rebelling, turning against us for her own survival even as paranoia about the Red Menace gave us a rash of alien invasion movies, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers having it’s cake and eating it by offering us stark warnings of both the perils of McCarthyism and Communism depending on your reading. 

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the grindhouse horror of the ‘70s, it’s that bad things happen when Americans leave the safety and security of their white picket fences and venture out into the big, bad world. What else were classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes but thinly disguised Vietnam allegories? A group of brash, confident, ignorant, naïve, young Americans, seeking fun and adventure, leave the security of the world they know and are grimly butchered by rapey junkies/inbred cannibals/mutants, their killers representing both the foreign, hostile, unknowable other and the American military industry complex itself – quite literally consuming the flower American youth in the case of all those cannibal movies… 

Post-9/11, with the West having embarked on its Forever War On Terror, movies like Hostel and Borderland have shown us that the more things change the more they stay the same, with American backpackers being served up and fed to the meat grinder for fun and profit while the torture porn genre has invited us to vicariously enjoy their often deserved suffering. The Saw franchise’s near-omnipotent villain/hero Jigsaw is analogous to Osama Bin Laden, punishing society for what he perceives as its wickedness, his ideas and twisted sense of retribution rallying converts to his cause. And who can really blame Jigsaw for his jihad? We amuse ourselves by streaming ISIS executions, happy slapping clips, bum fights and 2 Girls, 1 Cup, torture porn arguably reflecting and rewarding our decaying society’s cynicism and desire for ever more extreme sensation. 

It’s also inevitable that these films would eventually start greying the lines between good guys and bad, the torture inflicted on The Devil’s Rejects by William Forsythe’s vengeful sheriff as extreme as the violence the psychotic antiheroes have dished out over two films, firmly implying that America’s institutions are rotten to the core while Simon Rumley’s Red, White & Blue explicitly brought the war home for us, directly linking American foreign policy directly to the cycle of revenge and Western masculinity. 

While far less thoughtful, Julian Richards’ Daddy’s Girl stalks similar earth. Though the film’s focus is Jemma Dallender’s heroine Zoe, a young woman abused since childhood by her serial killer stepfather and forced into the role of accomplice to his crimes, it’s virtually impossible to see perverse, torture-happy, war veteran antihero John Stone (played by Poundland Michael Pare, Costas Mandylor, sucking in his gut and chewing the scenery) as anything but Trump’s America in a soiled T-shirt. A redneck Humbert Humbert, it’s implied he groomed, married and drove to suicide Zoe’s mother just to get himself a teenage daughter of his very own to rape and brutalise, Stone’s military service hides a dark past; court martialed for war crimes, he was a guard at Abu Ghraib and, thrown out of the service he’s brought America’s sins home with him, setting up his own customised torture chamber at his isolated farmhouse and shifting his attentions to female drifters rather than POWs, using his stepdaughter as a lure to attract victims. Inevitably, their activities attract the attentions of the local deputy sheriff who just happened to have served as an MP in Afghanistan… 

As the wickedest of stepfathers, Mandylor is obviously having a ball and, while the film never explicitly shows the worst of his crimes, he’s a repellent presence, his gruff, dead-eyed predator essentially a swaggering small town bully whose military experience has taught him some new skills and given him the opportunity to cultivate his appetites. Hollyoaks alumni Dallender meanwhile carries the film as the ambiguous but sympathetic Zoe, who is both complicit in her father’s crimes and may be developing taste for murder herself, a victim who may be taking her first fledgling steps on the path to becoming a victimiser, engineering ways to offer her father’s captives ‘release’ from their ordeals, her still performance suggesting the depression, self-loathing and warring loyalties beneath the mask she presents to the world. 

Unpleasant and gently transgressive, Daddy’s Girl never quite escapes its exploitation roots but director Julian Richards has almost captured lightning in a bottle, his film commenting, however cack-handedly, on the arrogance and hypocrisy of American foreign policy while just beneath the surface lurks a more subtle, complex portrait of child abuse and it’s legacy.

 Sleazily effective, Daddy’s Girl is a nasty little thriller that makes you want to shower after watching.

Movie Review: Daddy's Girl
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