Even though it was a bomb in the theaters, Grindhouse (2007), has left its mark by taking 70’s and 80’s exploitation cinema and exaggerating its content and aesthetic. More often than not, this influence has merely resulted in a veneer of digitally added scratches and a few retro looking posters. Very few films are really willing to dig into to the truly seedy and problematic aspects of grindhouse cinema; Father’s Day is not one of those movies. In many ways it reminds of Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), in that both are colorful and amazingly violent pastiches of the exploitation film. What separates them is that, while Hobo with a Shotgun is willing to add a touch of the bizarre, Father’s Day is prepared to go completely bonkers.
Ahab (John Sullivan) is man driven by revenge. He hunts Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock), the Father’s Day Killer, a crazed beast of a man who appears from nowhere to rape and kill fathers. Some years after Ahab seems to have put the Father’s Day killer down once and for all, the murders start again. A young priest (Mathew Kennedy), goes to find Ahab and together with a street hustler named Twink (Conor Sweeney) they begin stalking something that may not be entirely human.
Father’s Day is an extremely schizophrenic film; it can lurch from absurd humor to vicious graphic violence in the space of a single cut. This flip-flopping of tone is a double edged sword, on the one side it’s very difficult to prepare yourself when you have no idea how the next moment is going to be portrayed. It’s a great technique for heightening the impact of the comedy and the horror. On the other side, it’s also hard to invest yourself in any single character or moment for the same reason; everything can be thrown away in a cartoonish joke, or an explosion of violence. Ultimately this is an exploitation action film with plenty of gore and I suppose you are not expected to get too emotionally caught up in things. This may be due to the fact I saw Astron-6’s Manborg (2011) first, and wound up getting attached to the characters. I expected the same thing to happen here.
The plot of the film introduces a play on the often questionable gender politics of exploitation films, with the victims being largely white men. You can tell where the movie is coming from when you realize Ahab’s costume reflects the one worn by the female lead of the infamous rape-revenge film, They Call Her One Eye (1973). The gender reversal never quite gets used for anything other than shock value, and ultimately the by the third act, the story reverts to some guys rescuing a girl. Still, it is an interesting idea, and I would have liked to have seen it play out a little more.
Father's Day is a wonderful looking film, filled with grime and at the same time bursting with color. There is an exaggerated grain, and thankfully the movie keeps the emulsion scratches and cigarette burns to a minimum. There are some impressive stunts too; in the age of digital action, it’s so easy to forget what it’s like to watch real people in a dangerous situation. There is a car chase complete with actors jumping from one car to the other that is tremendously fun to watch, and it looks to be done without a single computer enhanced element. The third act brings the Manborg aesthetic back full force with plenty of stop-motion and green screen mayhem.
Father’s Day rides the line between homage and satire before transforming into its own unique thing. It can be rough and not necessarily for everyone, but it has the grimy beating heart of a true exploitation film.