Hot off its UK premiere at Raindance Film Festival, Father of Flies follows the lineage of murky, atmospheric family horrors like Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Yet Ben Charles Edwards’ film ditches the ghost-story setup for something more ethereal and ominous. The result is a horror that’s as unnerving as it is disquieting, littered with engaging performances, and a gripping ending.
The film follows Richard (Nicholas Tucci, stunning in his penultimate role), a divorced father whose new partner Coral (Camilla Rutherford) moves in with his two children. It’s a family teeming with dysfunction, as Coral is almost entirely silent, and wears a Michael Myers-style breathing mask around the house. There’s something not quite right with the two children, either: son Michael (Keaton Tetlow) draws morbid pictures of his estranged mother, while daughter Donna (Page Ruth) is increasingly detached from her family. Cue a desperate bid from their birth mother, Sandra Andreis’ Linda, to reclaim her son – and a slow descent into paranormal mania, murder, and violence.
It’s a phrase often used with horror cinema, but Father of Flies is truly a film best experienced knowing very little. Director Edwards and co-screenwriter Nadia Doherty very purposefully drip-feed information to the audience, with the films opening sequences depicting snowy vistas, grassy fields, and quick shots of the disquieting solitude of the family home. It’s an uncanny valley sort of approach, where so much of their life seems normal, with such subtle twists that unearth the lingering threat laying behind. A stepmother relaxing on the sofa — with a threatening mask covering her face — or an infant son’s drawings on the wall — depicting violent deaths.
But that’s all part of the plan, as while Father of Flies may be a little slow for contemporary horror audiences, it unravels in a really engaging way. The second act is guilty of meandering a little bit, and there are a few subplots that don’t quite resonate with the rest of the film. Broadly speaking it’s a very concise experience, where every line of dialogue serves some role, though Michael’s tangential relationship with the old neighbour, Colleen Heidemann’s Mrs. Start, fails to take off. But that’s the only bit of loose plotting in a film that constantly has you second-guessing exchanges, unpacking the gothic realism, and preparing for a scare.
And scaring the audience is all part of Father of Flies‘ charm, as the frights are handled with some effect. From a fictional TV show starring an eerily creepy clown figure to Michael’s visions of his mother lurking in the shadows, Father of Flies certainly wants you to remember that, deep down, it’s a horror. That all comes into fruition in a truly brilliant third-act twist, which we won’t spoil here, but totally throws the narrative on its head. While that final twist could’ve used a little more room to breathe — perhaps some foreshadowing, or just a little more explanation — it’s enough to demand you rewatch Father of Flies, and realise the brilliance behind it.
Of course, no discussion of Father of Flies can take place without acknowledging the tragic circumstances around it: namely, the shocking passing of star Nicholas Tucci, who died a year before the film’s release. He’s brilliant in this subdued role, with a performance that encapsulates the desperation of a father on his knees, and the guilt that continues to rack him. His talent shines through among so many other good performances, namely Camilla Rutherford’s Coral and Keaton Tetlow’s Michael, and the film acts as a wonderful tribute to his acting talent.
Overall, Father of Flies is one of 2021’s hidden horror gems, whose gothic imagery and unsettling premise bubbles into a final act that wilfully leans into the wacky horror ideas at its core. It’ll scare you and certainly shock you, and isn’t one to be missed.
Father of Flies had its UK Physical Premiere at Raindance Film Festival (6th Nov) with a general UK release in 2022.