Gritty drama set in Yorkshire is built on tension and bleak, unremitting violence
Catch Me Daddy opens with a middle-aged man snorting cocaine in a grotty caravan. It’s the first of a great many bleak moments in this low-budget thriller, conceived as a “modern-day Western set in the Yorkshire moors” by first-time director Daniel Wolfe, who co-wrote the script with his brother Matthew. Together, they offer a hellish vision of what can happen when a young girl’s lifestyle conflicts with the strict values of her Pakistani family.
Teenager Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, whose performance earned her a Best Actress nomination at 2014’s British Independent Film Awards) and her boyfriend Aaron (Connor McCarron, star of 2010s Neds) are on the run from Laila’s traditional Pakistani family. They live in a caravan in a gloomy Yorkshire town, grimly rendered by Fish Tank cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Laila works as a hairdresser, Aaron spends his days playing fruit machines in a run-down social club. When Aaron turns his nose up at a job as a dishwasher, Laila’s response suggests she resents his laziness: “Do you think I like washing old women’s hair?”
Yet the more we see of the couple’s life the happier it seems. In a memorable early scene they spend an evening together in their caravan, Aaron contentedly getting high on codeine pills on the sofa while Laila dances gleefully to Patti Smith’s ‘Land’. It’s one of three Smith songs in the soundtrack, which also features Tim Buckley and unsettling ambient music from Matthew Wolfe and drone artist Daniel Thomas Freeman. Until now, Daniel Wolfe has directed music videos – he made the gritty visual accompaniment to Plan B’s 2010 single ‘Prayin” and French electronic duo The Shoes’ Jake Gyllenhaal-starring ‘Time To Dance’ – and he cleverly mixes Smith’s visceral punk with an intimate snapshot of two people perfectly comfortable in each other’s company.
The jubilance is cut short when Laila’s family begins to intervene in her life. Her father is unhappy with her relationship, so sends two car loads of men to the caravan to confront the couple. A gruesome game of cat and mouse ensues. The grimness Wolfe has explored so far turns to gore, and there are a series of brutal scenes depicting horrible violence. In one, someone is beaten, tossed from a moving car and then run over. Wolfe uses these moments to explore the effects that fear can have on the human mind. In one scene, the couple get into a taxi to continue their escape but, terrified, Aaron picks an argument with the driver and screams to be let out. They become isolated, unable to trust anyone.
Wolfe manages to maintain the overwhelming tension until the frustratingly ambiguous conclusion. Catch Me Daddy is uncompromising, miserable and powerful enough to linger long in the mind.