In My Father's Den review

In My Father's Den stands out for the same reasons that MacFadyen's sad-eyed Paul Prior is such a sore thumb in the close-knit town he once called home. Both are intelligent, arcane, uncompromising and a pleasure to watch.

Adapted from Maurice Gee's 1972 bestseller by award-winning short-film director Brad McGann, this dream-like, haunting first feature isn't easily categorised. Is it a well-observed character-driven comment on smalltown suffocation? Or an intriguing melodrama about family betrayal and guilt? Oh, wait, maybe it's a gripping murder thriller that's sharp enough to flummox the savviest of cinemagoers...

Well, it's all that and more. A slow-burner densely layered with mystery motifs and imagery, and littered with secrets within secrets. Memory and regret are key - recalling the woozy probing of The Sweet Hereafter and the dark, human tragedy of Lantana. Though it's expertly paced by McGann and beautifully photographed by Lone Star DoP Stuart Dryburgh, Father's Den is shouldered by the brooding MacFadyen, who conjures a compelling air of disquiet as the enigmatic loner treading a fine line between hero and bastard.

With his impassive gaze and quiet intensity, he's haughty, funny, cruel and kind - but always inscrutable. It's entirely possible that a man who'll try to knock seven shades out of an abusive stepfather could equally be capable of darker deeds. Just as in a place where marrying your childhood sweetheart and running the butcher's is the most you can hope for, it's easy to understand why creative, quixotic teen Celia (the sparky Emily Barclay) would be attracted to this cynical newcomer who's been away for 17 years and developed a "stuck-up Pommie accent".

To discuss more is to risk spoilers, but when Paul's glacial reserve is threatened, the resentments and closeted torments rush forth like the river he sinks to his knees beside...

A deceptive, surprising and thrilling drama that oozes tragedy, regret and hope. Proof that New Zealand isn't totally overrun with Hobbits.

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