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In My Father's Den Review

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After the death of his father, restless war reporter Paul Prior (MacFadyen) returns to the small New Zealand town he left 17 years ago. While there, he builds up a close relationship with Celia (Barclay), the teenage daughter of his ex-girlfriend, who he suspects could be his daughter.

★★★★

The prodigal son returning home to face the repercussions of his departure... The sleepy town with dark and closely guarded secrets... The key plot elements of Brad McGann's debut have often been used, yet he smartly exploits our familiarity with them to play with our preconceptions and take his assured movie in surprising new directions.

His handling of chronology is particularly skilled, taking us both back and forward in time as the small-town tale slowly unravels. Rather like another recent Antipodean hit, Lantana, this is equal parts mystery and human drama, putting strong characterisation and psychological realism first: the mystery is so involving simply because the people involved are so fascinating and well-drawn.

McGann has skilfully updated Maurice Gee's 1972 novel, with the addition of Patti Smith's music being an inspired touch. Sadly, though, the novel's greatest weakness - its melodramatic climax - is left intact, and proves an unfortunate departure from the previously understated tone. But this is a small gripe, as McGann proves to be an outstanding new talent, In My Father's Den also boasting some gorgeous photography and excellent performances from MacFadyen and Barclay.

An impressive debut - director Brad McGann reveals great skill and bravery in the way he brings the story's insular world to life.