Daughter (2023) Joins the Family of Mediocre Kidnapping Horror Films
First Non-Festival Release: February 10, 2023 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Corey Deshon
Writer: Corey Deshon
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Elyse Dinh, Vivien Ngô, Ian Alexander
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Families can be defined in many ways and there are variations in the investments people make in their families. When these bonds get taken to extremes, unequal pressure is put on individual family members to live up to expectations and demands placed on them by their family.
Daughter (Vivien Ngô) wakes up in a garage to Father (Casper Van Dien) explaining that she will join Mother (Elyse Dinh) and Son (Ian Alexander) as part of their family. Father expects Daughter to obey the rules and ensure the happiness of their family and in return she will be granted release in two years. It is from this point, that Daughter begins scheming to break free from her captors.
Static domestic horror thriller Daughter fails to tell a convincing story or build palpable dread.
Beginning where their last Daughter dies and their latest Daughter enters the home, writer/director Corey Deshon establishes the rules of his film without needing to explain much further. Father has strict ideas about how his family should behave and that any deviations will be punished. Seems simple and frightening enough, right? Unfortunately, a whole lot of nothing happens between that moment and beyond. Sure, the latest Daughter endures the hardships of orienting herself into the family, but beyond a slap or two, the audiences rarely see any push back for her behavior. Of course, this isn’t about seeking out that violence itself but for reasonably elevating the stakes as she works to escape.
One can argue that Daughter is more about the family dynamics and the rationale rather than escape, unfortunately this holds little water for the same reasons. Throughout the film, Father is presented to the audience through Daughter’s eyes as a hypocritical man with some vague religious faux enlightenment. The film rarely delves into the meat of his beliefs, but just reminds the audience that he is guided by something other than an obvious thirst for power and control. It’s frustrating as a viewer to know so little despite the inclusion of multiple “lessons.” Too short to glean anything of use and too ambiguous to understand the dynamics, the film falters under the flimsy foundation of its inception and refuses to dive deeper into its material.
Shaky performances lead to underwhelming interactions that should be rife with tension. With Daughter, much of the horror is implied. Throughout the film, Father alludes to some apocalyptic vision of the world where sickness engulfs the air and people need saving by good folks like their family. While Casper Van Dien asserts himself as the unquestioned authority in the house, his confidence never quite shows beyond his first encounters with Daughter. Vivien Ngô, on the other hand, seems too cool and collected from the beginning to navigate the social politics of the home effectively. Their scenes rarely edge beyond what is necessary to move the plot along instead of marinating in the discomfort or showcasing why Daughter might be different than the ones before her.
While it doesn’t stand out from the glut of horror films centered on kidnappings and fake families, Daughter does manage to get a few things right along the way. It is filmed in a rustic and claustrophobic manner to eke out enough tension in its languid runtime. The choice to shoot on 16 mm is clearly the right one, as it leans into its 70s aesthetics including the plain wardrobe and restrained camerawork.
Mediocre in the end, Daughter fails to differentiate itself from hundreds of similarly themed films. So-so performances and a script that never really goes anywhere make it a challenging watch for those lacking patience for an otherwise disappointing ending. Its lack of scares or tension gets a boost from its commitment to aesthetics and solid technical work, but otherwise this indie film fails to deliver on its premise. Don’t let word-of-mouth or Father tell you want to enjoy and seek out Daughter yourself to make up your own mind.
Overall Score? 4/10