Directed and written by Irish brothers Daniel and Matt Wolfe, with stark yet beautiful cinematography from Robbie Ryan, Catch Me Daddy is a hellish descent into a lurid world of drugs, violence, and fear.
Pitched as a modern Western, the film riffs on its genre influences with a narrative setup that sees a group of hired thugs circling a small rural Yorkshire town. They’re looking for a young couple, in love and on the run, who’ve holed up in an attempt to wait out the impending storm.
A Love Story (of Sorts)
Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) plays a young Muslim girl who eloped with her white boyfriend Aaron (Conor McCarron). Her father dispatches a group of bounty hunters led by Barry (Barry Nunney), a violent and intimidating thug, with his reluctant partner in tow (Gary Lewis), a functioning drug addict, to bring her home.
Drugs play an important role in the film, and the cerebral, surreal, and lyrical pacing captures their effects. Our young couple smoke cannabis, and the thugs on their trail smoke pot, and take harder drugs too. Narcotics effect even the sound design, with noises echoing and reverberating unnaturally to capture the experience of codeine users.
Similar to all Western genre film, it’s clear that people are going to die, and the slow gentle expressionistic cinematography manages to infuse the entire film with a sense of conflict. The world is a beautiful place, full of mystique and wonder, but people are cruel, superstitious, and violent. Robbie Ryan borrows from his work on John Mclaen’s film Slow West to lend Catch Me Daddy a similar sort of artistry and tone.
Violence and Racial Tension
Catch Me Daddy has some moments of startling violence, and the film contains something of a comment on contemporary Britain. There’s racism under the surface, there’s an uneasy truce of sorts between more liberal values and dogmatic religion, and then there’s the love story at the heart of it all. A white British boy meets a Muslim girl and it doesn’t end well for anyone.
The opening sequence of shots serves to establish a sense of space, something that the Western genre has always done well. Thanks the Wolfe’s considered direction Catch Me Daddy emerges with a similar tone to Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes, bringing a sense of cathartic violence to sleepy small town England.
Wolfe’s film is unrelenting, and there’s a consistently eerie tone throughout. It has a disquieting effect, and the enigmatic characters provide little in the way of moralising. This is simply a story that happened. The soundtrack, the colours, imagery, and set pieces, and the terrifying moments of explosive action all add to the rising tension that never peaks.
It’s an exhausting experience. The narrative is disguised and it never emerges fully formed, instead it’s revealed through action, with dialogue kept to a minimum. The character’s themselves don’t seem to have any direction, and the small Yorkshire town is a purgatory, a place where people have to pay for actions committed in the past.
Sin, religion, and extremism are issues skirted around by the film, and there’s never a definitive moment of explanation. The characters are types, they’re not developed beyond the setting they’re in, but that doesn’t present a problem, instead it makes the film far more interesting. The story is deconstructed, and audiences are left to impart their own meaning and values on the archetypes who appear on screen.
But Laila does get some context. There’s a lovely sequence near the beginning of the film that involves her buying milkshakes from a small town shop, and she has a gentle exchange with the boy who works there. His easy laughter stands in stark contrast to the problems that Laila’s facing, but the moment also reminds audiences of just how young Laila is too.
It’s the adults in her life that are causing pain and suffering, and she’s trapped in the middle of it all. For her, escape is all she can hope for, but she’s held prisoner by her father’s beliefs. He never properly appears in the film, yet his influence is felt in every scene.
There are some moments of real beauty and poignancy. One specific scene stands out and it takes place in the tiny trailer where Aaron and Laila are hiding out. They smoke cannabis, and Laila dances to Patti Smith’s Horses. For a brief moment she exists outside of her problems, and perhaps even transcends them. For Matt and Daniel Wolfe this scene plays to their strengths, with their background in making music videos.
It’s a scene that stands out, just like Andrew Garfield’s one in Boy A, because of its inherent rebellion, and the beauty of a person expressing themselves without words. Laila dances in the eye of the storm, in the face of the black clouds gathering on the horizon, and she does so in spite of the danger she’s in.
Catch Me Daddy is a poetic piece of cinema, with a lilting lyricism hidden among its violent story, and it expertly blends Western genre concerns with a modern narrative. It’s hard to watch, it’s frequently nasty, but its story is worth telling. It’s an admirable feature debut from the Wolfe brothers.