France, Japan, Korea: these have always been the countries that have cornered the market on brutality in revenge films. Movies such as Martyrs and I Saw the Devil are remembered as much for their original stories as they are for their terrifying scenes of torture and pain. But from this point on, never let it be said that Australia isn't making its own valiant effort at running with the pack. Because I don't think I've ever had to look away from a movie as often as I did from Chris Sun's Daddy's Little Girl.
The Plot: While two parents are sharing less than acrimonious custody of their six-year-old daughter, she is taken from the mother's house in the middle of the night, raped, and murdered. After six moths of investigating, the police are no closer to finding her killer, and devoted father Derek is falling apart. However, when Derek discovers that his baby's murderer is much closer to the family than anyone could have imagined, he decides to manufacture his own brutal brand of justice.
As Daddy's Little Girl began, I was expecting a film similar in tone and style to last year's critically acclaimed Prisoners; I was epically wrong. Girl is the kind of film Prisoners might have been had it not starred people like Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Because there is no way that Hugh "The Boy from Oz" Jackman would have the testicular fortitude to perform the scenes required by this film. (And I say that with all the love in the world for Hugh.) Because Girl is quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking, gory, and realistic revenge films I have ever seen. And it's also one of the best.
The trailer for Daddy's Little Girl informs you that the bulk of child abductions are committed by someone known to the family, so it's no spoiler to tell you that is what happens here. But it is the level of the unrepentant depravity of the murderer coupled with their sheer closeness to the family that makes the revelation painful to watch. It's made even more emotional by the performance of actor Michael Thomson. He glides from grief to giddy tortuous glee so effortlessly that it is almost whiplash-inducing. At the same time, the rises and falls in turmoil are perfectly rational given the circumstances. Frankly, I have only seen a few other actors so perfectly nail the pleasured anguish that comes from torturing the person who stole your child from you.
And speaking of nails... The torture scenes in Girl rival anything I have ever seen in a film that wasn't some crappy Eli Roth movie or a trashy Saw sequel. Just when you think that you have probably seen just about everything a torture movie can come up with, someone introduces you to the concept of a pipe shoved up the ass, followed by a heaping line of rusty barbed wire. Coupled with a handful of old torture standbys, as well as some other new devices that seemed unique to the film, I wasn't just nauseated; twice I actually had to close my eyes.
Which leads us to the age-old question raised by films like Daddy's Little Girl: when you watch it, you are undeniably in Derek's shoes. Unless you've lost a child in such a heinous manner, you can't possibly even begin to imagine what kind of mental state he is in. On some level, of course, you are rooting for him. Who hasn't heard a story about a child molester and thought, "Yeah, cut that bastard's fingers off one by one." But then, you watch it happen. And when it is so mind-bogglingly realistic, as it is in Daddy's Little Girl, there is that small part of you that is left thinking, "No... This can't be right." This internal struggle is exactly the kind that should be sparked by an excellent revenge film. And Daddy's Little Girl is an excellent revenge film.
I just don't think I will be watching it again for a very long time.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Cringe-worthy Points