E.L. King says Corey Deshon's Daughter is a tense, nuanced, clever thriller delicately navigating depravity and power dynamics.
Beyond unsettling, Daughter is a strong debut feature from writer and director Corey Deshon, that's brilliance is difficult to quantify with words. A young woman is abducted to serve as a surrogate daughter to a family with radical doomsday ideologies. She's told that "as long as she's good, nobody will harm or abuse her."
Father (Casper Van Dien) commands a room and his family with sickeningly gentle brutality, a gruff, stern voice, quiet violence at the slightest provocation, and manipulation. When he is displeased, everyone is forced to hold their breath as dreadful unease takes the place of the air in small beige and wood-varnished rooms. The film is a slow burn picking at our anxieties, fears, and the trauma of our isolation during the pandemic. Like Sister (Vivien Ngô), we are trapped within a claustrophobic nightmare where every truth we know about the outside world is no longer safe in Father's warped vision of a happy and whole family.
Father, Mother (Elyse Dinh), Brother (Ian Alexander), and Sister make up a bizarre vision of the nuclear family. In the late 1960s, an environmental crisis took shape as air and water pollution reached catastrophic levels. The smog was making people sick, and they were dying. The film's distinctly 1970s production design by Emily Peters, whose choice of color palette, vintage set pieces, and costumes evoke the era. Coupled with Father's stories about the outside world and why the family must stay sheltered inside, his beliefs must be influenced by the crisis in some way. However, he also preaches about the soul and transcendence once the corrupted world outside ceases to be.
"I don't like secrets. Secrets, in a place like this, are dangerous. Families rely on trust. We're not going to have an issue with trust, are we?"
To keep them safe, Father shackles everyone in weighted chains at the leg, locks the doors, and always keeps the window shades drawn. Only he may leave the house for supplies. Sister's role is to keep Brother happy: the two play board games and study Father's doctrine to pass the time. Sister learns her role and plays her part, looking for an opportunity to escape her literal chains. However, she also uncovers unsettling secrets about the dynamics of her new family.
All of the performances are outstanding. Each character is portrayed with a subdued intensity, albeit for Alexander, whose interpretation of the wide-eyed, enthusiastic, and childlike Brother is disturbingly demented, curious, and playful. Ngô is excellent with her meek mannerisms, avoidance of eye contact, and calculating demeanor. Everything we witness, experience, and understand is viewed through her perspective. Sister will play the part she needs to while creating cracks within Father's carefully controlled environment.
Deshon's narrative is an intelligent and psychologically labyrinthine journey contained by an acute sense of dread—an emotion expertly supported by David Strother's often petrifying score. With the restitution of freedom in sight for Sister, many unknown horrors and implied dangers are still to come. Daughter is a tense, nuanced, clever thriller delicately navigating depravity and power dynamics.
Daughter had its East Coast premiere at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on October 16, 2022.