Sean Brosnan's My Father Die
"A raw, blistering work which audiences witness rather than watch."

An astonishing debut from Sean Brosnan which effortlessly eclipses the work of his more famous father, Pierce, My Father Die is the kind of visionary film that everything in the industrial systems behind modern cinema mitigates against. It's a raw, blistering work which audiences witness rather than watch, a cri de cœur whose simple storyline supports a powerful emotional punch.

Joe Anderson is Asher, a deaf and mute young man who, two decades ago, watched his brutal father Ivan (Gary Stretch) kill his brother (Chester Rushing). Now Ivan is out of prison and Asher is determined to track him down. Wearing the fur headpiece that his brother used to play in, he looks half wild, animalistic; but all his life he has been mocked for his disability, called a retard, and now he's laying claim to an identity of his own. The problem is, that identity is focused entirely on revenge. Willing to stop at nothing, he is becoming monstrous himself, and increasingly dependent on the man he aims to destroy.

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Anderson gives everything he has to the central role, embodying Asher with a conviction rare in an actor his age. He's ably supported by Gabe White, who plays Asher as a child and provides an occasional voiceover, Asher possessing no adult voice. Communication is handled through body language, the use of a notepad, and, sometimes signing, when Asher spends time with Nana (Candace Smith), his best and only friend. A single mother who makes her living through online sex work ("it's safer than some other things"), she finds herself inexorably drawn into is destructive quest, and when Ivan learns what's going on and decides to action to defend himself, the danger increases.

Visually stunning and given further force by Ohad Benchetrit and Justin Small's bold score, the film is so intense that one might all too easily miss the brilliant technical work holding it together. Trevor Gates' sound design is important both in creating atmosphere and communicating the distancing effect of Asher's deafness. And for all the sound and fury, Brosnan knows when it's time to be still, puncturing the film with moments of dreamlike tranquility.

At the centre of this storm, Gary Stretch gets the best role of his career as Ivan, drawing on some of the smouldering nastiness he found in Dead Man's Shoes. His creation is a man of few words, but a man who seems to have little use for them. In an intriguing early scene, Brosnan plays with the queer subtext of this kind of hyper-masculinity. This underlines the almost complete absence of women; Nana is warned off by a preacher who tells her she doesn't need a man-child to look after.

As we flash back to the black and white opening scenes of Asher and his brother playing games in the woods, we are left to wonder if any of the men, living both literally and metaphorically on the fringes of civilisation, have really achieved adulthood. For Asher, subjected to so much brutality, the goal is perhaps something different - simply to be human. It's the tension between the human and the animal that makes this film so strong and seems to bleed over into its texture and structure. It's a visionary work that bespeaks a rare talent,and a token, one hopes, of exciting things to come.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2017
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My Father Die packshot
A young man is out for revenge.

Director: Sean Brosnan

Writer: Sean Brosnan

Starring: Joe Anderson, John Schneider, Kevin Gage, Candace Smith, Gary Stretch

Year: 2016

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: US

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