This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
British films often fall into recognizable types: the gritty social drama, the gritty "urban" movie, and the, er, gritty gangster flick. Catch Me Daddy resists all of these. Instead, it grinds together elements of western, thriller, and fairy tale into something that we haven't quite seen before.
Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) is a pink-haired Pakistani-British teenager who's left home and shacked up with her white Scottish boyfriend, Aaron (Conor McCarron) in a caravan on the Yorkshire Moors. By day she works in a hair salon, while he slopes about, looking for work in a half-assed way. At night they get fucked up on codeine and dance to Patti Smith.
It won't last. Two crews of bounty hunters are after them, both hired by Laila's dad, Tariq (Wasim Zakir). There's a Pakistani-British contingent—made up of Laila's brother, Zaheed (Ali Ahmad), thuggish Junaid (Anwar Hussain) and two underlings—and, separately, a pair of white British men, conflicted cokehead Tony (Gary Lewis) and terrifying bruiser Barry (Barry Nunney). A mutual contempt between the two groups is obvious—but they have to work together.
Cutting between the couple and their pursuers, we get hints of familial backstory—just enough to make us care without losing the chase momentum. In an early scene Junaid goes out with his baby daughter, later we see Tony sniffing and looking forlornly at a photo on his phone that may or may not be his wife. When the men eventually figure out Laila and Aaron's location, the film cranks up several gears, and doesn't let us draw breath until the end.
Catch Me Daddy is the first feature from brother team Daniel and Matthew Wolfe. Daniel made the Shoes' "Time to Dance" video with Jake Gyllenhaal as a slasher on the loose in Dalston and Paolo Nutini's entrancing "Iron Sky" video.
In his music videos, Daniel regularly uses non-actors, and he continued that trend with Catch Me Daddy. Certain roles, like Aaron, Tariq and Tony, are played by pros, but Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is a newbie, as are Anwar Hussain and Barry Nunney. They bring a rawness to the action. "You want it to be region-specific and you want it to be accent-specific and there weren't the actors and actresses that were right for these parts," Daniel says. "I wanted an authenticity that I think street casting brings. Not only that but something heightened—it's hard to articulate."
Apart from those actors with agents, none of the cast had a copy of the script. "I'd make them learn the lines just before the scene or feed them the lines or tell them what we wanted the scene to be and tweak them," he explains. They shot chronologically so what we're watching is genuine reactions to situations as they unfold—observational fiction, almost.
Sameena Jabeen Ahmed made it clear that she wouldn't do anything that her mom wasn't cool with. "The film was probably more chaste because we cast her," says Daniel Wolfe. "She was like, 'I'll do this, this, I won't do this...' I think it's better for it. It brought an innocent quality—suddenly it looks like [Aaron and Laila are] a boy and a girl making a den."
Critics have likened Catch Me Daddy to the classically British social realism of Ken Loach or Andrea Arnold. Daniel Wolfe objects. "It's too easy, isn't it? Because it's up north, it's got street cast people, [they label it as] Ken Loach," he says. "It's not social realism and it doesn't intend to be. None of our influences were that. I love Andrea Arnold; Wuthering Heights is in one of my favorite films of the last five years. But she wasn't an influence on this."
So who was? Bill Douglas, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sam Peckinpah, Bruno Dumont, Shōhei Imamura, Alan Clarke, Werner Herzog and Takeshi Kitano, says Daniel. To which Matthew adds the photographer Paul Graham, westerns like Wild Bunch, Pale Rider, and The Great Silence, along with Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. "And chase stuff—from Terminator to Southern Comfort." Artworks, too. "During writing and pre-production we were looking at a lot of quite nightmarish paintings, interpretations of the Apocalypse and hell realms."
"Nightmarish" is the word. Throughout the film, dread builds through menacing sound design, tense pacing, and unnerving visual flourishes: the appearance of various strange animals—birds, fish, lizards and snakes, night scenes where we just make out characters' faces carved into the inky blue sky, and the moors, beautifully shot on 35mm by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, practically a character of their own. "Bleak and magnificent. Unforgiving," is how Matthew Wolfe describes them.
Despite the subject matter, says Daniel, "We didn't want it to be an issues thing. We thought, how can we take the landscape of Lancashire and Yorkshire and give that the mythic setting of the westerns we grew up watching?"
But isn't it kind of awkward to be turning the topic of honor killing, among a population to which the directors themselves don't belong, into something "mythic"? Did they have reservations?
"It is sensitive material. But I didn't want to step away from it because of that," says Daniel. "It felt interesting and challenging. We spoke to honor crime charities, to people within the community; we did extensive research and the more we did, the more we felt that what we were doing was right." He stresses that the film isn't about representing "a whole broken community," but "a handful of people and their lives," adding: "I feel, from the feedback we've been getting, that we've been respectful."
Since premiering at Cannes last year, the film's had a lot of love. Sameena Jabeen Ahmed won the best newcomer award at the BFI London Film Festival (the Wolfes were also in the running) and Catch Me Daddy has been hailed as "blistering" (The Telegraph) and "one of the most exciting British debuts for years" (Dazed).
It's not perfect. Certain moments don't quite convince—I wasn't sold on the ending. But still, this is filmmaking talent to be reckoned with. Next up the brothers are working on another thriller, about a British snooker player having "an existential breakdown during a tournament in hedonistic, crazy China."