Daughter Picks Apart Traditional Family Roles

(L-R) Ian Alexander as Brother, Casper Van Dien as Father, and Elyse Dinh as Mother in the thriller film, DAUGHTER, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

We all know that the perfect family doesn’t exist, and I’m sure that we all have our horror stories. Fights with parents and siblings, that time whosit broke the whatsit and got into trouble and those sorts of things. In these imperfections, we form nostalgic memories. However, a darker side of the familial spectrum exists where memories are formed via abuse, trauma, gaslighting, and breaches of trust. Corey Deshon’s Daughter belongs to the latter group, where a militant family man will do anything to keep the family he forced together from separating. 

The poster for Daughter shows Father standing behind his seated captors (From left), Brother, Daughter in handcuffs, and Mother.
Image courtesy of Darkstar Pictures

Casper Van Dien stars as Father, a fire and brimstone-spewing megalomaniac who keeps his family in line in the most cultish of ways. Abducting a new person to play his family’s Daughter character (Vivien Ngô), he tells Daughter that it will be for a short period of two years to keep up the illusion of what he’s created for Brother (The Last of Us Part II‘s Ian Alexander). Understanding her situation, Daughter complies with Father’s request and begins to fit the mold created for her, knowing any misstep would likely lead to death. Deshon clues the audience into the direness of that situation right at the start, with Father and Brother being seen hunting the previous portrayal of the family’s Daughter. What perplexes the audience at first is their need for gas masks. 

Though the titular character may be the perspective we see the film through, Father’s relationship with Brother is the main focus. In fact, everything Father does is meant to keep Brother happy. Raised in isolation and home-schooled, Brother knows very little about the outside world. He’s told that the air outside of the home is toxic to breathe, facilitating the reason Daughter is different now that she’s recuperated from the outside sickness. Alexander is excellent, committing to the character the audience can empathize with. However, the way Father placates Brother’s feelings resembles the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” where people bend to the satisfaction of a boy with godlike abilities or risk eradication. Deshon crafts an alluring mysticality over Father’s interest in Brother, helping to keep the audience embroiled in the film’s mystery. At the same time, he suggests the patriarchal example dotes largely on its sons and often ignores its daughters.

Daughter sees an opportunity to manipulate Father’s familial views by creating a play for herself and Brother to perform for Mother (Elyse Dinh) and Father. The depiction challenges Father’s moral lessons and threatens his ideas on sexuality. Deshon’s script is loaded with this type of thematic material. The idyllic Rockwellian perception of the American family is placed under a microscope here, especially when it comes to historic patriarchal views that dictate knowing one’s place, the old-world ways of conforming into specific boxes so as not to embarrass the family name, and the archaic and misogynistic practices of men being men and women being women. There’s subservience in the female characters, who are seen preparing and serving meals, and asserted dominance by the Father character who requires Brother’s indulgence. The women of Daughter are often made to walk on eggshells around Father, who, while intriguing, is also capable of any degree of violence when barely even provoked.

Brother is illuminated walking through the garage threshold where Daughter is chained to the floor.
Ian Alexander as Brother and Vivien Ngô as Sister in the thriller film, DAUGHTER, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

Dinh’s Mother is a highly nuanced performance. Though at times, she may be frustratingly cooperative, her personal struggle is left unknown outside of a few subtle actions and hints in the dialogue. Yet, it explains her refrain from helping Daughter. Ngô’s performance is also more on the subtle end, as she goes from the typical horror-movie kidnap victim to playing along quickly, genuinely developing a bond with her circumstantial Brother while formulating a plan against her captor. 

Father’s need to control the family’s narrative resonates heavily with me. This intimidating figure is very reminiscent of my own father—a man who spoke highly of his family but avoided them, a man who spoke of religion but rarely went to church, and a man quick to reactively discipline any provocation of his authority. Deshon and Van Dien fantastically capture this character’s imposing, self-serving nature and, through Brother’s indoctrination, construct a scenario of how hate is taught, which is uniquely reflected through a white male kidnapping himself a Vietnamese-American family that is submissive to him.

Through Father’s years of gaslighting and misinformation, the movie brilliantly exposes the lens of broken and outdated family archetypes. It shows what the hand-me-down process of gatekeeping at this magnitude has on individuality, creative expression, and the psychological development of the children involved. The film’s final minutes also provide a lesson about the acceptability of what we’re teaching the next generation and how hard it is to break misinformation spread from a familial source. With a small musing of opportunistic capitalism thrown into the mix, there is a lot to unpack from Corey Deshon’s Daughter, especially about what we consider family values and insular family dynamics.  

Father is covered in blood walking through a field, Brother right behind him, both wearing gas masks.
Casper Van Dien as Father and Ian Alexander as Brother in the thriller film, DAUGHTER, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

Though the experience is worth discussing, the action in the film is slow and methodical, with David Strother’s score adding tension to the atmosphere. Van Dien cements his menacing presence in the film early on, but without him in a scene, the power of the situation diminishes. While I enjoyed the many ways Daughter observes and pokes holes in traditional values, the film is just a little slower and more straightforward than I would have preferred. A few times, I wished the pace would liven itself up simply for the sake of the audience. The performances are outstanding, the underlying themes are phenomenal, the direction and cinematography are also notably good, and the film leads to a rather shocking and satisfying conclusion.  

However, even at only ninety-five minutes, Daughter felt a little long. The inconsistent pacing is a bit of a buzzkill, but fans of slow-rolls may find this film more enjoyable than I did, especially if they also love out-of-this-world ensemble performances. The cast elevates Daughter to another level and makes the film worth considering on your next horror outing. 

Daughter is in select theaters and will be available on VOD beginning February 10. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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