Revenge is a dish best served over several courses in Sean Brosnan’s brutal redneck noir tale My Father, Die. Full of Old Testament values and punishing degradation, it pits a father and son against each other in skirmishes that go well beyond traditional family rows into the realm of pure Freudian nightmare. Brosnan dedicates the film to the controversial Irish playwright and poet J.M. Synge, whose famous play The Playboy of the Western World is – like Brosnan’s directorial debut – themed around patricide.
Like many of the writer’s works Brosnan also set his story in the milieu of the peasantry (swapping the Aran Islands for the Mississippi), folk who live out in the bayous and outsider communities. My Father, Die’s pummelling violence and existentialist leanings would be too absurd if set in County Kerry or County Mayo, but the doom-filled lyricism – its bloodied, weary soul – might best be described as Beckett with gunplay. Ivan Rawlins (Gary Stretch) is a contender for the world’s shittiest dad. While many a father can be a remote, even unknowable figure, in a boy’s life, Rawlins is a man to be feared and possesses not an ounce of love for two boys, Asher and Chester. Meaner than a rattlesnake backed into a corner, this a biker boss who wears a leather waistcoat with ‘Black Death’ written on the back and described in one line of dialogue as a “pre-historic motherfucker”.
One day Ivan murders Chester, after finding out he’s screwing a bit of trailer trash he wants all to himself. Beating the lad to death and whooping Asher so hard he goes deaf, when released from the big house twenty-odd years down the line, a now-older Asher (brilliantly played by Joe Anderson) decides – much like the hobo Terminator played by Macon Blair in Blue Ruin – to track down the old bastard and destroy him. Asher’s spiritual tragedy is his lack of recognition that, while there’s a clear Oedipal angle to the whole saga, he’s more like his pappy than he reckons. The pair, locked in mortal combat, perversely – and uniquely – bond over their shared experience. Perhaps the bleakest element of this family drama is the absence of redemption – a world without it truly is a cruel place.
FrightFest 2016 runs from 25-29 August at Vue Shepherd’s Bush. For info and tickets: frightfest.co.uk
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn